Many years ago I had the opportunity to handle a professional bow and to learn just how hard the sport of archery is for a beginner. We were enjoying an afternoon of recreation during the Feast of Tabernacles at Mt. Pocono and my brother-in-law, Roy, had brought along his archery equipment. It all looked so easy-just place the arrow on the bow string, pull back and fire.
Easy? Just holding the bow steady was the first challenge. It was far heavier than I had ever expected. And pulling back the bowstring...that was like trying to bend a piece of metal!
After much muddling around I eventually managed to make some kind of impression on the rigid string. Fire. Or should I say plop...as the arrow meekly fell to the ground in front of me. I soon learned that archery was not going to be my sport of the future and my appreciation soared as Roy and others were able to actually hit the target.
Over the years I have often meditated on the many analogies between archery and our Christian lives. You might be surprised just how relevant archery, in type, is to our spiritual life and future.
Missing the Mark
The majority of times the word sin appears in our English translations of the Bible, it comes from the Hebrew words chattaahor chata. Those words carry the connotation of "to miss." Literally to miss the mark, to miss the target or objective in front of us, just as an archer can miss the target he or she is aiming for.
When we sin, we miss a mark or target before us...a mark that we are expected to hit. If an archer never hits the target before him, then he could not rightly expect to even be called an archer.
God's Master Archery Team
God Himself is often referred to as an archer-a perfect archer, who does not miss (Psalms 18:14; 21:12; 38:2; 45:5; 64:7; and 144:5-6).
In a figurative sense, God has called us to His master archery team. He wants us to learn how to hit the targets He sets before us, specifically His laws, statutes and commandments. To miss those targets is, simply, to sin.
But when God calls us to His "team," we are just like I described myself. Absolutely useless at even projecting an arrow forward, let alone hitting any target.
Notice how Paul describes this amateur condition. "For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly...while we were still sinners [still missing the mark], Christ died for us" (Romans 5:6-10). God calls us as beginners and sets before us the challenge of perfecting the Christian calling, just as an archer, when he starts out, needs to work long and hard to perfect the art of archery.
In 1 Timothy 1:15, Paul acknowledged how bad an archer/Christian he was when God called him onto His "team."
Psalm 103:14 says, "For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust." God knows just how lacking in ability, in strength, in endurance we are when He calls us, just as an archery coach appreciates, understands and accepts the fact that his new recruits leave a lot to be desired.
How, then, does an archer, especially a spiritual archer, become proficient?
Learn About the Target
For one thing, we need to learn where and what the target is. There is no point in blindly shooting into the distance, hoping to somehow miraculously hit some hidden target. There is also no point in even learning how to shoot an arrow, if we don't first consider the target to aim at.
God, as our Coach, shows us the target of His law, revealed by His Spirit. Read 1 Corinthians 2:10-16. God "has revealed" the target to us, "yes, the deep things of God." Through that Spirit we can know what targets to aim at, as fully explained in Psalm 119.
"You have commanded us to keep Your precepts diligently," King David wrote. "Teach me, O LORD, the way of Your statutes" (Psalm 119:4, 33).
Paul reconfirmed the vital importance of law throughout his writings, such as Romans 3:31, "We establish the law." To break that law is to dishonor God, just as an archer dishonors his coach by failing to hit the target. Romans 2:23 says, "You dishonor God through breaking the law."
If we take away those laws and commandments, we symbolically remove the target set before us. That is just as illogical as removing the target before an archer and telling him to take aim, shoot and hit the target. What target? Where? No, God ensures His target-His law-is clearly seen and discerned, through His Spirit, before the eyes of a Christian.
In Philippians 3:17-19 we are then encouraged to make sure nothing gets in our way of aiming for and hitting that spiritual target. To miss that target is to sin.
An Archer Needs Strength
We are encouraged to strengthen ourselves by looking to God's law (Psalm 119:27-28 and 40). "Strengthen me according to Your word," just as an archer, to achieve perfection in his sport, must also strengthen his arms. Upper arm strength is essential in order to hold the bow steady as aim is taken and the arrow fired. Inner spiritual strength is also essential for the Christian to hit the spiritual targets ahead.
As an archer also needs good eyesight, so we need to develop good spiritual eyesight (discernment), to be able to understand and accept the targets God has for us in our lives. Notice 2 Timothy 2:15: "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God [our coach], a worker [an archer] who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth."
In Romans 1:18-22 Paul explains that God has not hidden His target behind an obstacle to obscure our vision of that target. "His invisible attributes are clearly seen...so that they are without excuse."
Your Personal Best
An essential principle that applies to all sports-including archery-is the need for a sportsman or woman to always be striving for their personal best. Likewise, as Christians, we must be striving for our spiritual personal best, always striving to do better and hit the target more regularly and more precisely. Not drinking as much, being a better driver, a better parent and spouse, avoiding temptations and conquering bad habits. Aiming to hit the target more and more regularly. Achieving our personal best each and every day.
In any sport, endurance is a vital element in achieving success. Endurance is especially important for us as Christians. Many of us, after decades in the Church, have been working on our spiritual archery skills for many years. But we always have another personal best to aim for-especially the example of Jesus Christ.
Sometimes a sportsman is tempted to "take time out," to sit back and relax. But when he returns to his sport, the road is just as difficult. Training must never stop-skills can easily be lost and desire can wane.
Endurance is part and parcel of the Christian life, as explained in: Romans 12:11-12; James 1:2-4 and 12, 5:7-11; Acts 14:21-22; and 2 Thessalonians 1:4-5. These are just a few scriptures that encourage us to be "patient in well doing," just as archers must be patient through their training, practice and competition.
Along the way we always need to keep in mind that God, as our Coach, wants us to succeed. He wants us to hit the target. Time and time again. Notice Philippians 1:6: "Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ." Our Coach will do all in His power to ensure we succeed. Of that we can be confident.
Sure, there will be bad days along the way. At times our eyes will be sore, we will not be able to clearly see the target. At other times we will simply be sloppy and not all that focused. Our arms may ache from holding the bow. At such times we have to take in a deep breath and resolutely determine to go on, to keep on training, to keep on perfecting our skills.
Our Coach understands.
Unless. Unless we start to miss the target intentionally.
Imagine an Olympic archery contestant, in the major event of his life, deliberately turning his shoulders ever so slightly and aiming away from the target. Maybe he has taken a bribe to lose. Maybe he is bitter against his coach or teammates. And he misses intentionally.
How would you expect his coach to react? He would no doubt be thrown off the team and asked to leave the Olympic Village.
Likewise, if we miss our spiritual target intentionally-after years of coaching, persistence and practice-what should be our fate? Hebrews 10:26-29 makes that fate quite clear. "For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins." There would no longer remain any room for us on the team.
A seasoned, experienced archer is expected to hit the target, just as a seasoned Christian is expected to be avoiding sin...avoiding "missing the mark."
And, in conclusion, we should consider what is the bull's eye of the target of our Christian calling. Paul explains exactly what that bull's eye is, in 1 Corinthians 13:13, "...but the greatest of these is love." Pure, undefiled love is the dead center of the target God has placed before each of us.
Why? John gives the answer in 1 John 4:8. "He who does not love does not know God, for God is love." Without love we are not even on the team. Without love we have not even seen where the target is, let alone begun to master the challenge ahead of us.
So let us be constantly taking aim at that ultimate target God-as our perfect Coach-has placed before us, the target of becoming like God, who is love. Emulating the example of the apostle Paul who tells us, in Philippians 3:14, "I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus."
Along the way we will be perfecting the art of spiritual archery. UN