Archery and the Christian Life

During a recent flight to San Antonio I was reading Marshall Hodgson’s classic The Venture of Islam (V1) and considering the spread of Islam in the world. I pondered the Muslim Arab victories over the Byzantines at Yarmuk (636 AD) and the Sasanids at Qadisiyah (637 AD), and the Muslim Berber victory over the Visigoths at Guadalete (712 AD). Many factors contributed to the success of The Faithful, and one of the greatest was their use of archery.

Just as something as simple and powerful as the bow and arrow can transform the political and religious world, it can also inform the Christian life. The purpose of the bow is to propel an arrow accurately and swiftly into a target, whether a hay bale, a deer, or a man. There are several steps to do this effectively:

First the archer must adopt a stance that puts his leading shoulder towards the target and gives him firm contact with the ground and good balance. (STANCE)

Second, he must grasp the bow correctly and nock the arrow so that it is firmly on the bow string. (NOCK and SET)

Third, he must raise the bow so that the arrow points towards the target and place his fingers around the bow string on either side of the arrow. The archer’s grip on the bow should be firm but not tight. (PREDRAW)

Fourth, he must pull back the bow string and hold it there. (DRAW)

Fifth, he must make a firm connection between his drawing hand and his face, typically at the angle of the jaw. (ANCHOR)

Sixth, he must aim the arrow at the target. (AIM)

Seventh, he must smoothly release the bowstring, which propels the arrow forward. (RELEASE).

Eighth, he must hold the bow steady after releasing, not lowering the bow until the arrow hits the target. (FOLLOW THROUGH)

We should use the same steps in all of life; people in general but Christians in particular. Now let’s consider each step and how it can apply to other areas in life, and in the Christian life.

STANCE

Having the proper STANCE orients us towards our goal. The glory of God is our goal and His revelation, both the Bible and the created world, tells us how to orient ourselves to it. A good archer will have a good target and keep his eyes on it. A good Christian will keep his eyes on Christ. A good archer will orient his body and mind towards the target and a good Christian will orient his body and mind towards Christ. That is, he will use his body and mind only for things that please his Lord. He will work, play, rest, write, ponder and read, enjoying the full spectrum of life, but will do so in the love of God.

Each believer also has a God-given goal specific to him. He will look at Christ through the goal that Christ has given him. For example, a Christian archer seeks skill in archery because God made him to be an archer. The better archer he becomes, the more he is what he was created to be, the more he shows his love for His Creator, and the more glory he gives to God. Part of this is using his body for his personal goal.  An archer builds his arm, chest and back muscles, as well as his legs and core, to shoot better. A man of faith builds his body to meet his mission.

The right STANCE also keeps us in balance; without too much or too little reliance on any area of life. Some people are workaholics, others work little or not at all, some don’t sleep nearly enough, and others pursue little but their own pleasure. Part of balance is the proper use of time; both how much you allocate to each activity, and how you use the time you have allocated.

NOCK, SET and PREDRAW

The steps NOCK, SET and PREDRAW are done to orient the archer to the tools of his task, his bow and arrow. He attaches the arrow to the bowstring and places the shaft on the arrow rest in a prescribed manner; doing it the same way each time. He grasps the bow in the same place and raises it in the same way every time. Similarly the Christian learns how to use his tools properly and consistently; whether a scalpel for a surgeon, an instrument for a musician, or a book for a teacher. It is not enough for a follower of Christ to learn the Bible. He must also learn the skills of whatever he is called to do in daily life, and be excellent at it.

DRAW

The DRAW is the hardest physical part of shooting an arrow. Further, the heavier the draw, the faster the arrow and the flatter its trajectory towards the target. Thus an archer will use the heaviest draw he can consistently handle to get the most accurate shots. Harder work produces better results.

It is no different in the Christian life. Once our goal is in sight, our bodies and minds are oriented to it, and our tools are ready, the harder we work, the better our results. Keep in mind that the DRAW step comes after the STANCE, NOCK, SET and PREDRAW steps. Hard work does no good if we don’t have a goal, don’t have balance in our lives, and don’t know how to use our tools to accomplish the mission. The greatest archers, and the greatest people, are generally the ones who have worked the hardest.

ANCHOR and AIM

As the archer gets closer to completing her task, she reaches a critical point, anchoring and aiming. She must ANCHOR the rear of the arrow against a consistent point on her face and then AIM the front of the arrow towards the exact point that she wishes to hit on the target. Having a consistent anchor point is one of the two most important parts of successful archery. Aiming towards a single small spot is the other one.

Every task has a critical moment, an instant in which training, physical and mental health, and everything else come together and end in success or failure. It is the moment before a quarterback takes the snap, a singer hits her first note, and the preacher steps to the pulpit. It is the instant before the doctor walks into the exam room, the lawyer asks his first question, and the mother intervenes with her quarreling children.

Having a consistent ANCHOR and a steady AIM at the critical moment is similar to the final focus that champions develop prior to performing. Some athletes call it “getting in the zone.” The archer empties her mind of distractions, suppresses her jitters, and focuses her eyes squarely and minutely on their task (preaching the sermon, seeing the patient, calming the children, or shooting the arrow).

Christians are called to be excellent in everything that they do, and just as the archer ANCHORs and AIMs, they will do the same. Even more, when a believer worships God, she will focus on Jesus.

RELEASE

The archer must have a smooth release. He does not push the arrow out but, at the right moment, lets the bowstring with the arrow nocked on it slip between his fingers. If everything else has been done correctly, and the release is smooth, the arrow will fly swift and straight towards the target. A good outcome is not guaranteed, however. The wind can gust and blow the arrow off target. Worse, an unseen animal can step out from behind a bush and get hit.

When the Christian has done everything he can, he acts, and leaves the results to God. The preacher begins his sermon, well prepared and confident that God will work in it. The athlete runs, the musician plays, the mother speaks, all doing their best, and trusting that God will provide the outcome, whatever it is. At this moment the believer in Jesus, just as the archer, is relaxed.

FOLLOW THROUGH

A championship archer will never lower the bow immediately after releasing the shot, lest the falling bow knock the flying arrow off course. Instead he will hold the bow steadily until the arrow hits the target. A Christian will do the same thing. When a speaker finishes his speech, he never walks immediately off the stage, but he waits a few moments for the audience response. When a woman prays, she listens for the voice of God. When a surgeon closes the surgical incision, he waits to see how the patient is doing. When a wife places a homemade meal before her husband, she pauses to see his reaction. Our tasks are not complete until we look at the results.

Conclusion

History has shown us that the bow and arrow is a potent weapons system; one which has changed history. Techniques of excellence in archery are similar to techniques in other sports, and throughout life. People in general, and Christians in particular, can use the steps of excellence in archery in every area of their lives. They will do everything much better as a result.

More details on how to shoot a bow are available at Archery-Foundational Skills at MDHarrisMD.com.

Archery – Foundational Skills

Archery is a fine, fun and relaxing sport. During our courtship, Nancy and I would spend hours at the outdoor range just shooting, talking, and enjoying the sights and sounds of nature around. She would pack a lunch and the days were delightful. I highly recommend picnics at the range rather than expensive restaurant lunches and movies during which no one talks to really get to know a person.

For those interested in learning the basics of archery, here they are.

Stance – Shoulder towards target, posture good (back straight, shoulders back and stomach in), feet parallel and shoulder width apart. Keep your attention focused on the target. Your bow arm shoulder should be low, not hunched up against your neck.

Nock – Place the shaft of the arrow on the arrow rest and turn the odd fletching the proper direction for your bow. Then snap the nock of the arrow on the bowstring. Once the arrow is nocked, keep the bow and arrow pointed downrange at all times.

Set – Grip the handgrip on the bow with your thumb facing towards the target when the bow is hanging down at your side. Wrap your fingers around the bow grip but keep them relaxed.

Pre-draw – Raise the bow and place your fingers (or mechanical release) around the bow string. If using a release, place your trigger finger behind the trigger and press gently forward to prevent the trigger from accidentally releasing when you draw the bow. Do not tightly grip the bow with thumb or fingers. A relaxed hand will provide better bow control. At this point your chest should be rotated parallel to the arrow shaft.

You should not have had to reposition any part of your body, whether stance, gripping hand, or anything after it was done the first time. If you must reposition something, do it now before you draw.

Draw – Pull the bowstring with the arrow loaded in a straight line back towards your face. Your drawing arm should be directly behind and parallel to the arrow shaft. Do not let your drawing arm hang down.

Anchor – Make a firm connection between your drawing hand and your face, often the angle of your jaw. This will place the bowstring close to your nose. The anchor must be firm. Now transfer the weight of the draw from your arms and shoulder to your back muscles.

Aim – Pause and check your overall form, including stance, overall body position, anchor, and concentration on the target. Make sure that your grip on the bow is loose and comfortable. Aim by sighting up the bowstring or using the sights. Ensure that the bow is vertical, neither tilted left nor right.

Release – Double check everything up until now. If something is not right, slowly let down the bowstring and start over again. Never dry fire a bow, and never fire a bow uncontrolled.

  1. If using fingers, let the bowstring leave your fingers holding the bow string, almost pushing them out of the way of the bowstring.
  2. If using a mechanical release, slowly move your trigger finger from behind the trigger to the front of the trigger. Then squeeze the trigger slowly.

Follow Through – Hold the bow up, not letting it fall until the arrow hits the target. Meanwhile relax the muscles in the drawing hand and arm. Once the arrow hits the target, let the bow slowly fall and begin the sequence for the next shot.

Advent Tree Family Devotions – December 4

Anchor Cross

Jonah 1; Mark 4:35-41; Luke 8:22-25; Acts 27; Hebrews 6:19‑20

Few things are more terrifying than to be tossed helplessly in a raging storm at sea.  Capsizing, running aground, being washed overboard, and breaking up, all often fatal, are only a few of the dangers.   The crew’s best hope is to jettison cargo, find a sheltered place (if possible) and anchor firmly. 

In antiquity from Polynesia to the Mediterranean, anchors were often grooved or pierced stones.  By the first century A.D., Romans were using anchors with arms and flukes (similar to the traditional and more recent kedge anchor).  The arms allowed the anchor to dig deeply into the gravel and mud on the bottom of the Sea of Galilee, or into the lime, clay, sand and mud on the Mediterranean floor.  A properly set anchor cannot quiet the storm, but it can bring the ship and its crew safely through. 

The disciples, many who were experienced fishermen, likely had many stories of life threatening tempests.  The Apostle Paul endured storms and even shipwreck.  In every case, the Lord protected them, whether on the Sea of Galilee or in the Mediterranean off the coast of Malta.  Better than any anchor, Jesus calmed the sea, and brought them through the storm. 

How fitting, then, that this Christmas anchor is shaped like a cross.  Even as Jesus brought His people through disaster on the water, so He brings us through disasters in our lives.   Crime, sickness, injustice, and pain are inevitable on our earthly journey.   Our hearts break as parents die, children disobey, jobs are lost and health is shattered.  Our strength fades when loved ones betray, dreams are crushed, wealth fails, and our bodies wither.  Like a sailor’s, our best hope is to jettison the distractions in our lives, find a sheltered place in His word, and anchor in His love.  Sometimes the Lord “calms the sea” by taking the situation away.  If He does not, though, He always brings us through. 

Even through the ultimate and eternal storm, that of sin and death, Jesus, by His death on the cross and resurrection, has delivered those who love Him.

As we put our hope in Christ, we study and obey His word.  As we learn his word and speak to Him in prayer, He builds our faith and makes us better able to trust Him (Rom 10:17).  We know that Jesus will be faithful to His promises and work His perfect will in our lives.

While contemplating the symbolism of the anchor-cross with our loved ones this Christmas season, let us resolve to remember Christ each time we see an anchor, or a storm.  Jesus is, truly, the anchor for our souls. 

O Come all Ye Faithful

O come, all ye faithful,
Joyful and triumphant;
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem.
Come and behold Him,
Born the King of Angels!
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

Sing, choirs of angels,
Sing in exultation;
O sing, all ye citizens of heaven above.
Glory to God, all glory in the highest!
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

Hail! Lord, we greet Thee,
Born this happy morning;
Jesus to Thee be all glory giv’n.
Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing!
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.