Heavenly Archery: Hitting the Mark

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It began with a dream I had in which a huge angelic archer, flying above a city alongside me and the rest of our soaring army, drew his bow and shot an arrow, which curved around and cut a wide and exhilarating swath through the approaching enemy lines of the demonic horde.

The dream intrigued me, and soon I’d bought a compound bow, with a sight and all. But lately I’ve retrogressed to a recurve and instinctive shooting – and I love it. One of the reasons, I suppose, is when I play music I often love to fly by the seat of my pants and play instinctively, improvising, soloing by the feel of the moment. It’s exhilarating when all goes well.

But I’ve quickly realized a commonality between archery and music; faith is not only a necessary ingredient – it’s the very channel through which mastery flows.

In improvising a solo during one of our tunes, I have to make the choice to believe, against all the times I’ve missed the mark (even if a moment ago), that “this is the one.” I’ve watched Alison Krauss and Dan Tyminski do this with their singing and playing; I’ve seen Jerry Douglas do it constantly, and Barry Bales, though he doesn’t solo, has the same faith-attitude as well. If they fall off slightly for a moment they jump right back on it again. It’s a letting-go of what is past and straining toward what is ahead. “This one’s going to hit dead center.” Confidence. Assurance. Faith.

The same is true in shooting a bow. Hitting the mark is determined by the level of concentration, the way in which we block out all but the spot we’re aiming at.

When I aim generally and don’t concentrate well, I hit generally. When I aim specifically at that little X, and really believe, deeply faithe that this arrow will hit that spot, my shots in the center go way up. While I don’t hit the X every time, I hit a lot closer around it. A key component in concentration is faith. The choices of faith bring an attitude of faith which causes the action of faith; that internal choice changes what happens in the external world. The body conforms to the inner choice, and with the practice of faith, we get better and better at music, or archery, or whatever it is that we love.

Now, this faith is not presumption. A person can’t just pick up a bow and nail the X every time just because he believes it. As with any sport, or music, or our walk with Christ, technique must be built. But faith, as we practice, causes our soul/body to progressively conform to the inner desire of the spirit. A friend and I were shooting baskets the other day, something I haven’t done in years. I was terrible, lost a game of Horse in short order – until I began to faithe. My shots improved drastically as I set aside the past (“I’m no good. I’ve not played in years”) and took an attitude of faith toward what was ahead. Before each shot I’d will it to go in, believed it would – exercising my faith-will. I didn’t make every shot, but the difference was remarkable.

That’s a common link between those who perform at a high level. And a musician, athlete, or artist with that attitude ends up going a long way toward hitting the mark.

Phil 3:13-14, “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Faith pushes on, forgets what’s behind, takes forgiveness as a ‘given,’ moving on into the abundant life Jesus promised us. Faith knows I am dead to sin. Faith knows I am dead to having to be holy by my own steam. Faith knows a life of holiness, of love-for-God-and-others, is possible, and relies on Christ to hit the mark. Faith looks in the mirror before a Bible study, a concert, or in the morning before making breakfast for the kids, and knows  Christ lives in me and will change lives today through me.

As we exercise that faith, continually forgetting what is behind and living in that Now moment, we gain sufficiency. We take aim, faithe, and release that Now arrow. Hamartano, “missing the mark,” begins to give way to hitting it more consistently. We see Christ come through us again and again, and begin to come closer and closer to the mark, instead of always missing it by a mile. 2Cor. 3:18 says “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” When we practice faith in the power and love of Christ within us, seeing Him in the mirror, He progressively changes us into His image. By one sacrifice He has perfected forever (because His perfect life is in us) those who are being made holy (by this process of faith in that indwelling Perfection).

That’s faith. It’s fulfilling, fun, and many times through adverse circumstances is tough and gritty work. But it’s the only way to a high sufficiency in Christ. Those who faithe are those who grow.

Profile photo of Ron Block

Winner of 147 Grammys (or so), Ron Block is the banjo-ninja portion of Alison Kraus and Union Station. When he's not laying down a bluegrass-style martial-arts whoopin' on audiences around the world, he's taking care of his donkey named "Trash" and keeping himself busy by being one of the most well-read and thoughtful people we know.


22 Comments

  1. Jennifer

    Again…you’re so right =)
    I think that this is a key to everyday life as a Christian,
    “Faith pushes on, forgets what’s behind, takes forgiveness as a ‘given,’ moving on into the abundant life Jesus promised us. Faith knows I am dead to sin. Faith knows I am dead to having to be holy by my own steam. Faith knows a life of holiness, of love-for-God-and-others, is possible, and relies on Christ to hit the mark. Faith looks in the mirror before a Bible study, a concert, or in the morning before making breakfast for the kids, and knows Christ lives in me and will change lives today through me.”

    So many times we get caught up in the past, what we’ve done, what we’ve not done, how we did it, how we didn’t do it, etc and do not focus on the Present moment. And at this present moment, allowing Christ to dwell in us..being our driving force to hit the mark for whatever task we have ahead that day. Often as we start our day, we pray and have our devotional time and set out for our day only to be dissapointed in how it unfolds, or atleast I do. I often find myself upset at how *I* reacted to the kids, or a family member or how *I* didn’t do this or that……and feel as if I didn’t accomplish anything in that particular day, didn’t grow or anything else for that matter.
    But..then when I sit down to reflect on what you just wrote, “when we do practice faith in the power and love of Christ w/in us, seeing him in the mirror, HE progressively changes us into his image…”
    and again, its not really us at all..when we give it over to him…whether it be music, archery, or like you said just making breakfast for the kids…Christ lives in me and will change lives through me…and that is really hitting the mark!

    “Those who faithe are those who grow” ….Isn’t that what we all want?? I know I do and I see it happening in my life more and more each day.

  2. Stacy Grubb

    Ron,

    I’ve often had friends ask me how I manage to get onstage and perform without completely falling over in fear and nerves. Everyone always has the same concern: “I’d be afraid of messing up.” It didn’t take me long to learn, though, that it’s truly not about not messing up because, frankly, at some point, you’re going to mess up if you get onstage enough. It’s just statistical. The trick, I tell them, is recovering from it so that everything doesn’t start to unravel and spiral out of control. And really, the better you learn to recover, the less people even notice that you messed up. This isn’t to call anybody out, but honestly and truly to stand in awe at your professionalism, but I was at an AKUS show a few years ago in Knoxville (I think it was when the TN Theatre had just finished being restored and you guys were one of the very first performances in it) and I had snagged just unbelievably awesome seats…front and center. One thing I’ve noticed about people at AKUS shows, not many people sing along. But I do (much to everyone else’s chagrin, I’m sure). I just can’t help it. So, there sat I, literally on the edge of my best seat in the house, just wrapped up 100% in what you guys were doing. I didn’t even realize that I was singing along to “Forget About It” until Alison skipped a line or something in the second verse. I can’t remember what went wrong, but I do know that she did one thing and I did something else. For once, I was actually right, but not only did she cover so well, but the entire lot of y’all picked up the slack and recovered so effortlessly that everybody in the audience gave me the stink eye for messing up the song. Even my husband laughed at me. I was like, “Yeah, but…she….I….they…that’s not…the song. I was right, dangit.” lol I swear, I’ve used that moment as a guiding star ever since. For me, it was so impressive.

    It also gave me a lesson in faith. I mess up all the time when my band is performing, but they cover for me so well. I feel like a mess of nerves when I’m singing with a different group, because I just don’t have faith in someone new the way that I do in my band. I find a real parallel in that relationship and my relationship with God. My goal in performing, as well as life, in general, of course, is to not screw it up (to put it in a nutshell). But it’s so comforting to know that when I do – when I miss the mark – I’m not alone in the recovery. It takes trust, faith, communication, comfort, etc, to get to a point where you just go on and do what you do, believing that when you stumble, someone will catch you simply by doing what they do. It wipes away the fear. And I’ve also learned that, when you fall flat on your face, the audience is a lot more forgiving than you might give them credit for.

    The real lesson for me, though, was that, if I could put that much trust and faith in my band members and our audience, then surely I can know true rest in Christ. He is all of those things I need them to be and more. My dad is our bass player, although, when we’re in between guitarists, he does guitar and the brother of our banjo/dobro player does bass. I’ve noticed that I instinctively focus more heavily on whatever my dad is playing because, naturally, I trust him most and follow where he leads me. I have such faith in him that I know that as long as I stick with what he’s doing, I’ll stay on course. And I know this man and all his faults and limitations. It’s an eye-opener to what we easily put our faith in, and then turn around and struggle with putting our faith in an all-knowing, all-powerful God.

    Great, great, great post, Ron. I feel strangely energized for having read it.

    Stacy

  3. Stacy Grubb

    Can you believe I forgot to say something?

    I also meant to say that, the way you describe your dreams, I get this idea that you’re enjoying big epics at night. That’s so fascinating to me. I have really realistic dreams in that they can convince me that they’re really happening, but the circumstances are usually so insane that when I finally wake up and realize I was dreaming, I have to ask myself how I ever fell for that. Anyway, I’ve told you before that I’m really intrigued by dreams and discuss them a lot and yours seem really different from what I’ve ever heard from anyone else.

  4. kelli

    “Christ lives in me and will change lives today through me.” I LOVE THIS!! And, oh how I daily (more like hourly, no…every minute!) need to look in that mirror and remind myself of this!

    As a wife and a homeschooling Mom, I know this is the most important thing I need to remember throughout my day. I so often get in His way, and it just becomes disasterous. I constantly pray that I will be moved out of the way so He can live through me. In fact, Ron, I think I first realized the truth of this from your song “Let Me Be You” !

    I think another thing to that goes hand-in-hand with all this is that faith should be our guide – even when our emotions try to steer us differently. Emotions can be so good, but they should not control us. Faith, trust and obedience must prevail.

  5. kelli

    oops…I hit submit before finishing!

    Jennifer…I wanted to just say I very much resonate with what you’re saying about being disappointed with how our day unfolds, and feeling like *I* completely failed. I think this is such a struggle for moms.

    But, like you said, it’s not really us, is it? When we get in the way of His Spirit, living in us, chaos is everywhere!! But, when we allow Him to live through us, beauty spills out.

    It’s also good to know we’re not alone on this step-by-step journey! I’m glad to faithe with you all!!

  6. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Jennifer,

    There is a place where one almost stops looking for results. The only time I look at results is if I am obviously not on track – and then (most of the time) I immediately look at what I’m believing. It’s always a trust issue of some kind, some way in which I am expecting other people or circumstances to fulfill me or make me feel safe or secure, etc., or that I am trying to control a situation (the desire to over control comes from fear which, of course equals unbelief).

    That said, I don’t sit around and try to sniff out sin in myself anymore. If I’m unaware of it and God wants to make it clear, He’s totally capable of doing so. And if it’s obvious, I’m already aware of it and stepping back into faith. One of the really big leaps I made was to stop calling temptation sin, to stop feeling bad because of how I feel, which helps me get a grip on my faith-attitudes a lot easier.

    Stacy,

    I have written down my dreams for years. Many of them are merely psychological. But I’ve also had many Holy Spirit inspired dreams (and if they’re not Biblically sound, they’re not inspired…) that either encouraged me, told me what was really going on behind the scenes, warned me of something, etc. These are the dreams I always write down, except for rare occasions where I don’t listen to the Spirit and go back to sleep. On those mornings when I wake up (rare indeed because so irritating!) all I can remember is that I had a really important dream and I was too lazy to get out of bed to write it down. I’ve sometimes gone to bed thinking, “I’m going to have one of those dreams tonight” and did.

    Every once in awhile I go through a dream-interest phase and start thinking about them more. When I do this my awareness heightens and I start remembering them more, and also waking up after the dreams end to write them down.

    For awhile (a long time ago, as a teen) I experimented with what is called lucid dreaming. It’s the practice of becoming aware in a dream that one is dreaming. Some people do it spontaneously – my brother was one of those; as a kid he’d shrink dream monsters down to a very small size, etc.

    There are techniques for this, but I always had a hard time maintaining awareness. And I’m not so sure that lucid dreaming can’t be turned to occultic means – no one really knows what the dream state is, whether it is merely psychological, or if some dreams touch some weird joining-place where time and eternity intersect. Sounds weird, I know, but lucid dreamers talk of “dream guides” that appear in the dreams and all that same sort of thing that appears in the Casteneda books (which I consider demonic). I’m not one to mess with the occult at all, having read quite a bit in the last few years on possession, exorcism, and other aspects of the demonic.

    If I ever happen to become aware I’m dreaming nowadays I just observe and don’t try to change anything.

    But in any case, I’ve always been and am still fascinated by dreams.

  7. Stacy Grubb

    Ron,

    I’m aware of lucid dreaming only because I’ve done it, myself. Like your brother, I’ve mostly just been able to realize that a nightmare isn’t real and have taken control of whatever is scaring me or stressing me out. One that I recall right off is right after we’d set up my son’s aquarium, I had this dream that he knocked the table over and water and goldfish went everywhere and our new floor started immediately buckling. I had this brief moment of panic looking around at our ruined floor and dying goldfish and thought, “Wait a minute, I think this is a dream.” I remember having that thought. And suddenly it was like I hit a rewind button and that whole scene played out in reverse and the dream ended where it had picked up. I had had experiences like that for years and would often do really fun things when I realized I was dreaming, such as fly, run through walls, be a hero, and stuff like that, or I’d defeat a foe. It’s not a consciousness like being awake is a consciousness. For me, it’s kind of like daydreaming while I’m asleep. It’s not like I think, “I’m asleep and this is dream,” because I’m way less self-aware in dreams. It’s hard to explain, I guess, now that I’m trying. It’s like, everything just is what it is, including the dream. I’m not really me, I’m just an element in a dream, but on some mental level, I’m understanding that none of this is real, including the “me” that’s doing all this stuff. I’ve never been aware of a dream guide, though. I actually thought everybody could do that until I saw an entire episode of Oprah devoted to lucid dreaming and how to do it.

    Like you, I believe that God often gives me direction and talks to me through dreams. He’s even given me warning through dreams when bad things were about to happen. I’ve never considered them a psychic intuition, at all, though most people think I’m playing semantics when I try to explain the difference. In the end, I break it down to God’s personal relationship with me. He knows how to reach me and communicate with me on a level that is relevant to me. He knows that I will stand up and pay attention to what He’s telling me through my dreams, whereas someone else may be talked to through nature or something that is relevant to them and their personality. He knows that I am keen to symbolism, which for me, that’s what my dreams are. He gives me the symbol, which forces me to have a time of contemplation and reflection to make the connection (that rhymes). Sometimes, He even gives me lines and melodies in dreams, which I can then turn into a song haha.

  8. Stacy Grubb

    By the way, when I say He gives me warnings in dreams, it’s not in a way that I know what’s going to happen, so now I know how to prevent it. It’s just like a, “Be prepared, pain’s on its way,” type of warning.

  9. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Stacy,

    Don’t know if you’ve ever heard The Forbes Family cd I produced in the mid nineties called In The Shadow of Your Wings. The title song melody and chords were in my head when I woke up, and I got directly out of bed and wrote the song.

    That doesn’t happen very often – I wish it happened more.

  10. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Kelli,

    Emotions – a good thing if put in their proper place.

    And fellowship – crucial to walking the life of faith. There are times of aloneness occasionally, but the spark that comes from mutual edification is continually pushing us forward.

  11. Tony Heringer

    Ron,

    What translation is that 2 Cor 3:18 passage from? I’ve heard that verse for years, but the translation threw me off and made me think of 1 Cor 13:12.

    Still enjoying the tunes on Doorway. Next time you are in the Atlanta area, I’ll try and make it out to hear it live.

  12. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Tony,

    It’s from the KJV, which is my primary translation. I’ve got a Bible called The Word – The Bible From 26 Translations that I really like. It doesn’t have 26 verses for each verse; it just shows the ones that differ somewhat from the KJV. Quite often the different wordings, so readily available at a glance, shed a lot of light on what is being said.

    I looked up the verse in Eph 6 about kids today, “Bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” and saw “chastening and admonition,” “discipline and instruction,” “training and correction,” “education and counsel.” I immediately thought of “love and boundaries,” and then I looked up the Greek and found two more for myself – the word for “nurture,” KJV, is paideuo, which made me think, of all things, “padawan,” the Jedi trainees from Star Wars (I wonder if Lucas looked into Greek to find words like that). And the word for “admonition” is nouthesia, which translates literally to “mind-setting.” So just from having the extra translations right there I was prompted to a deeper understanding of how my kids are to be treated – as padawans undergoing “the mind-setting of the Lord.” In other words, loving, nurturing, disciplining, and mind-setting them correctly about Reality – God’s Reality.

  13. Nate

    You all must have felt super-spiritual when you recorded “We Hide & Seek” on the live album. It rocks my socks off… All kidding aside though, I appreciate what you are saying and believe that it can be applied to a lot of aspects of life. Jim Elliot tells us to “live life to the hilt.”

  14. Stacy Grubb

    Ron,

    I hadn’t heard it, but looked it up and was able to listen to some clips on Amazon. It’s amazing to me what’s out there that I don’t even know about. How do I miss this stuff? Just the clips were stunning. That’s one more on the list of CD’s to look for the next time I leave the sticks and go where stores sell actual music.

    Tony, an online source that I often use for quick references is biblegateway.com. That website has several different translations and languages and the search function is particularly handy for someone like me who doesn’t know her way around a Bible that well.

    Stacy

  15. whipple

    So interesting to have read this today and also to have read an article in the New York Times about the US Olympic archery team and their faith.

    Provident commonality…

  16. Tony Heringer

    Stacy,

    I’m a big fan of Biblegateway too, just wanted to ping Ron about that verse. Much like his follow up, it is really interesting how looking at the various English translations and then digging into the original languages — at least as much as a non-Aramaic/Hebrew/Greek person can — deepens the message.

    Ron,

    Lucas imbeds a lot of religion in Star Wars. I saw an interview where he stated that he pulled from all the world’s religions. So, it wouldn’t surprise me if he pulled padawan from a variation on NT Greek. In fact, every time I read 1 Sam. 28 and Saul visiting the witch of Endor, I think about Star Wars. Star Wars, to me, is one of those myths, as Tolkien used to say, that points to the True Myth. 🙂

  17. Brance

    Ron said: “When I aim generally and don’t concentrate well, I hit generally. When I aim specifically at that little X, and really believe, deeply faithe that this arrow will hit that spot, my shots in the center go way up.”

    To quote Mel Gibson in The Patriot:

    “Aim small, miss small.”

  18. Jesse

    I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my “life” as an artist, and wondering about my approach to the creative process and why it seems so fraught with failure to me. I wonder if perhaps what you’re saying, Ron, has something to do with it. When I go into writing I seldom have the attitude that what I write is going to be good. More often than not it’s an agony of “this isn’t sounding like I want and no one will want to read this tripe.”

    I’ve also recently watched “Danielson: A Family Movie,” a documentary on Daniel Smith and the group Danielson Famile, and the approach that Daniel takes to the creative process is one in which he willingly and purposefully includes God, the Ultimate Creator. This, again, is not something I do.

    Reading this has inspired me to believe in my art, and in its ultimate Source.

  19. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Jesse,

    I wish I could take credit. An old pastor of mine, now deceased, always taught faith as a verb, and would say that – “Faithe.” He taught “faith is action, based upon belief, sustained by confidence.”

    Also, there are many highly talented people who never develop their talent. The development of technique is crucial. If you don’t like what you write, find writers you love (several different ones) and study their styles. How do their words sound when spoken aloud? How deep do their words go when meditated upon? Are they pithy, wordy, funny, etc. Try to copy their styles (as a learning tool, not as a lifelong pursuit). Studying in this way will help you find who you are.

    But first, if you love writing, believe in the One who gave you that love for a reason. Sometimes we can get so caught up in our unbelief that we begin to dislike the thing we love.

  20. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Brance,

    The older I get the more I realize the need for real concentration on aiming small. Time-wise it means being concentrated upon this Now moment I’m passing through – what am I to be doing in this Now? and pushing all other past and future Nows out of my mind, being fully present in the present moment. And of course it applies to music, parenting, everything – putting all our force of faith and concentration into this Now moment (even if the Now moment involves future planning, etc).

  21. Stacy Grubb

    I just had a major light bulb moment.

    Jesse, I was talking to a friend of mine the day before yesterday about a project I’m getting ready to start. I’m a first-timer and he’s very well established in music and he was offering me some much needed advice. Anyway, he was asking me about material and I was telling him that I felt most overwhelmed by what to do and how to choose because, without fail, nearly every song I write eventually begins to rub me the wrong way and I doubt whether it’s even really any good and I have serious second-thoughts about letting someone else hear my garbage. He agreed that it’s a trap we all seem to fall into and can be stressful and my misery loved that company. But it didn’t really help me know what to do about it.

    Well, then Ron mentioned how the Devil may sometimes talk to us in a way that makes it seem like they are thoughts of our own that we’re coming up with. I immediately thought of times in my life where that could’ve been the case for me. Doubt and fear has often made me opt out of speaking out, sharing, singing, whatever. Well, there’s a testimony never given. Score one for the Devil.

    Reading your post reminded me of me. Reading Ron’s response clicked in my head the correlation between the conversation I had with my friend and about what the Devil would stand to gain if I keep every gift God has given me to myself. Frankly, he stands to gain a lot. I don’t say that to toot my own horn, but to recognize that God gave me a gift to use for Him. I don’t want to be a soldier fighting for the cause of Satan, but he sure had me pegged on how to make me be just that.

    Stacy

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