How to live with fewer regrets and make better decisions by focusing on just three simple questions
As his enemies stormed his castle, the king pleaded with the dying prophet.
The prophet, ill and near death, told the king to first shoot an arrow out the window. That arrow, he told the troubled ruler, was to be the Lord's arrow of victory.
Then the prophet asked the king to do something strange with the remaining arrows.
What that king did next will reveal a truth that can change the arc of your life.
But before I share with you how the story ends, I'd like to ask whether you know of three simple questions that help you to make better decisions, live more fully, and reduce your life regrets.
Although my two young daughters (aged 5 and 6) can still blissfully play with Barbie and Elsa, they will soon run headlong into the complexities and hardship of real life. To better prepare them, I began seeking some simple principles or frameworks.
At the same time, I was mentoring young men, many of whom work high-pressure Silicon Valley jobs in technology, finance, and bio-tech. For them, I needed something useful, flexible, and easily shared amongst men.
So here I was, thinking about how to provide Gospel-based guidance for two distinctly different audiences -- little girls just a few years out of their pull-ups on the one hand, and ambitious, well-trained and educated professional men, on the other.
Things begin to click when I came upon this verse (emphasis added):
Children born to a young man are like arrows in a warrior’s hands. (Psalm 127:4)
As I wondered how to “raise arrows” of my own, I realized that each one of our lives can be likened to arrows. After all, we were all children at some point in time. If we believe that God is the Father to all, then all of us who are his children are also like arrows.
And that's the question I asked myself: Are we to live life as an arrow?
And if so, what does that look like?
The Gospel's Arrow
Shades of the arrow as metaphor is implied in this verse (emphasis mine) which summarizes the Gospel:
This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:22-24)
The phrase “fall short” evokes an arrow which fails to reach its target. This reading amplifies a common translation of the word “sin” — ἁμαρτία (hamartía) — an archery term which means “to miss the mark" that has been used 174 times.
The arrow in Scripture, then, serves as not only a symbol of growth into full adulthood, but also as an image of our fallen and to-be-redeemed spiritual state.
So far so good.
I took the metaphor one step further. What is the essence of an arrow, and can you apply that to your life?
While not perfect, as I discuss later, here's what does work: our lives share three primary components with an arrow: to aim, to fire, and to strike.
Aim. Fire. Strike.
The arrow, left alone, does nothing.
For any arrow to have impact, it must first be well-aimed. An aimless arrow is at best useless, and at worst, destructive.
So it is with your life.
A life with God’s Purpose has a greater chance of glorifying God. An aimless or purposeless life, on the other hand, misses its target, dissipates effort, wastes a life.
But having a great aim is not enough.
Once you have aimed your arrow, that arrow must have the momentum to reach your target. Without enough force, your arrow will be buffeted by the winds or simply fall to the ground before reaching striking distance.
So it is with your life.
Without the right amount of Power, you cannot endure challenges and disappointments. You cannot persevere in the face of resistance and temptation. You cannot fight the good fight. You cannot finish the race.
However, even with the right aim and even with sufficient force to reach your target, an arrow must still actually penetrate upon impact. If the arrow fractures or bounces off instead of sinking deeply into its final destination, what would be the point?
So it is with your life.
Without burying deep within God’s Presence, how will you ultimately experience a relationships with Christ?
This begs the question which overshadows the entire metaphor of living your life as an arrow. What is your final target?
Your Ultimate Target
What does it mean to “hit the mark” instead of falling short?
The verse from Romans 3 suggests that the target is the “glory of God.” But what does that really mean?
At first it seems that to fall short is to fail living up to the standard of God. His glory is so great, we fall short because of our sin.
To read the phrase in this way would not be wrong. But doing so also seemed incomplete.
After all, the phrase doesn't say that we fall short of the holiness of God.
While holiness is related to God's glory, glory is different:
And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory! (Isaiah 6:3)
God is glorified when He makes possible what's impossible for man to do on his own: entering into His Presence. His holiness means we can't be in God's Presence because of our innate sin; but God's glory emanates most when we can be in His Presence because of Christ.
In other words, our ultimate target is God’s Presence. Hitting the mark means living fully and completely in God’s presence. Falling short is being in God’s absence.
The Psalmist longs for such a target:
O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Psalms 63:1 )
If our souls thirst for God, then hitting the mark and penetrating deeply means glorifying God. We glorify Him through faith alone in Christ and the completed work at the cross. This grows from a deep relationship with Jesus.
God’s Presence is perhaps the most overlooked, yet most essential, part of living life as an arrow. The motivated man can always come up with what he believes is his purpose. The motivated man can always summon the power to reach that self-appointed aim.
But those efforts may not result in an arrow which sinks deeply into what really matters at the end.
However, when we first seek and know our target intimately, when we begin with and draw from God’s Presence, our aim is course-corrected according to God’s will. When we sink into God’s Presence, we grow in His power while subduing our own worldly will.
The Arrow’s Essentials
Consider how the three elements of Purpose, Power, and Presence work with each other in the same way an arrow needs precise aim, a powerful draw, and deep penetration to reach its final target.
But what if you’re missing one of the three?
A life with purpose and power is, as described above, entirely possible without God. The motivated and worldly man can summon these two forces from pure willpower and ambition.
But there will like a sense of peace and deep satisfaction that can only come from expending life in God’s will and in His Presence.
But what about Purpose and Presence, but no Power?
I call this state Buried Spiritual Gifts: you have intimacy with God and recognize your Purpose in life, but don't have the Power to endure and run the race.
In the diagram above, I describe what the different combinations are but the end result is this: living a life of an arrow which hits its mark is to live a life of Purpose, Power, and Presence.
How do you aim, fire, and strike in real life?
Terms like Purpose and Presence may sound like abstract, spiritualized concepts. But they can actually have real-world, practical implications. They are the big buckets of wisdom that can guide you through the different seasons and scenarios of life.
The way to do this is to ask yourself (or better yet, have someone mentoring you) walk you through this basic question:
Where do you need more course-correction in your life right now -- purpose, power, or presence -- to best address your current challenge?
As an example, imagine you are in a difficult work situation. By framing your life as an arrow, you can begin to assess which of the three areas to dig into.
Is the challenge coming from a spiritual dryness, convicting you to seek more of God’s Presence?
Do you need to get clarity on your real Purpose by discerning whether you’re responding to God’s call?
Or are you needing greater Power which can come from addressing latent fears or recalcitrant pride?
You may be facing different seasons and different scenarios, but whichever situation, if you feel your life feels adrift from God, you could start with digging into Purpose, Power, and Presence.
You could certainly reflect on this question by yourself.
But let me share something I learned while researching archery. What I learned suggests that life as an arrow cannot be best done alone. You need something more.
The Archer’s Paradox
The Archer’s Paradox effectively states that an arrow pointed away from a target actually hits the target.
In other words, to hit the target, the archer must aim the arrow off the direct path to the target. Aiming along a line of sight that is clear and apparent to the archer will, in fact, miss the target. The only way to hit is by aiming to miss.
Doesn’t real life sometimes feel that way?
Have you ever kept pursuing a goal your way, in your own time, only to find it just didn’t pan out the way you wanted?
Then, when God is in control, you go on a path you belief is surely a misfire.
And, somehow, by His grace, it brings you closer to Him, exceeding your original desire?
What we think is a straight-line to the target is often a miss. And the winding miss under God’s hand is often right on target.
But if it’s true, doesn’t it mean we can’t do it on our own?
Consider these words from Proverbs 16:9:
The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.
Left to our own devices, we will aim in the direction we feel is right, straight, and certain.
But the right path is often not so clear. We can either stumble and learn through trial-and-error by ourselves, without any guidance.
Or we can, through Scripture and God’s people, course-correct:
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: (2 Timothy 3:16)
Because what seems like the obvious “straight shot” for our lives will likely miss, life as an arrow needs others. It needs Godly wisdom and correction because the ways of the world and our own devices will lead us astray.
Life as an arrow is not, cannot be, a solitary one.
Who's in your quiver?
Arrows don't stand alone. They need at least two other critical pieces to fulfill their capability: a quiver (filled with other arrows), and a bow.
An arrow, on its own, has limited impact in most situations. A quiver full of arrows, however, has the makings of a lethal weapon (once joined with a bow).
To live a life that is growing in Christ such that you may hit the mark, you will need others. These others aren't just living alongside, but actively engaging and rooting for you as Paul asks of the Thessalonians:
So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing. ( 1 Thessalonians 5:11)
Setting aside the paternalistic framing (this passage is from a much older father-type mentor to a young Christian), here is how else arrows can help each other (emphasis added):
For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory. (1 Thessalonians 2:11-12)
Yet many people live as solitary arrows. Even if they have an active social life, and even if they are part of a small group at church.
While the solitary step is easy to deliver quick wins - asking yourself in any given situation which of the three areas do you need to lean into more: Purpose, Power, or Presence - the step to be part of a quiver is just as important, perhaps even more so.
How do you become part of a quiver, rather than just a solitary arrow?
Share this article with one other person you know and agree to ask each other this one simple question:
"Which of the following do you feel most lacking so we can build you up: Purpose, Power, or (God's) Presence and why?"
This may seem like a trivial difference between asking yourself the question and someone else who asks you the very same question.
You benefit when you are the one encouraging, building up another, urging another such that they fully live into God's calling into the kingdom.
Straight as an arrow is a myth
One big potential flaw to the analogy to an arrow is this: many people incorrectly believe that living as an arrow means having their life straight as an arrow.
Scripture doesn't explicitly say that we are to live our life straight as an arrow.
Because living "straight as an arrow" sounds like making no mistakes, being morally perfect, and appearing upright and righteous to others. Yet, no one can live that way. In fact, Christ shared disdain for those who tried to appear "straight as an arrow" for he knew that everyone's heart is full of wickedness.
What's amazing about living your life as an arrow is that, in seeking Christ, if you feel bent and broken, misshapen and misdirected, you can still reset the arc of your life.
You can define your Purpose as one for the advancement of Christ's Gospel and the equipping of the saints.
You can draw your Power from the Spirit to endure and persevere, to bring into reality that which man, alone, cannot.
You can experience God's Presence in the now and look forward to the same Presence more deeply and fully in eternity.
All without being "straight as an arrow."
What happened to the king under attack?
Back to the story we started off this article with.
You may remember that the prophet Elisha then asks the king to grab some arrows. In this case, arrows aren't our lives. Instead, it is the king Jehoash who represents you and me - particularly how we receive the strange command from the prophet.
Here's the rest of the story as told in 2 Kings 13 (emphasis added):
Then Elisha said, “Take the arrows!”
So he took them, and Elisha said to the king of Israel, “Strike the ground!”
So he struck the ground three times and stopped.
But the man of God was angry with him and said, “You should have struck the ground five or six times. Then you would have struck down Aram until you had put an end to it. But now you will strike down Aram only three times.”
What was Elisha berating the king over?
What was it that Jehoash lacked that would have given him total victory?
Elisha was chastising Jehoash for his lack of faith. In this case, it was a lackluster faith in victory that resulted in striking the ground fewer times.
Some could argue that Jehoash lacked vigor, excitement, follow-through or passion.
I believe the command, "strike the ground" foreshadows faith in Christ. Let's return to the passage in Romans which does allude to archery:
This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.
Here's the parallel: escaping attack and likely death for King Jehoash is the same as having righteousness and escaping judgment and destruction for us.
This is given through the command "strike the ground" to the king; this is the same as "through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe" for us.
Did he strike the ground?
He did, but consider the context.
He has just been told that all of his enemies will be defeated. The king doesn't have to raise his own army. He doesn't have to suit up and go to battle.
He just needs to strike the ground. And total victory is his.
It would be like telling a high-school student, "All you need to do to get into Yale or Princeton is to hit your desk with your pencil's eraser. No need to study for your SAT, work late to get good grades, no need to write a great application."
Yet, despite this unbelievable offer, his response is tepid. Lukewarm. Hesitant.
While living our life as an arrow is one that has Purpose, Power, and Presence, the active engagement should be done with the full faith that Elisha expected out of the king.
For many of this, this is the outcome that's hard, but is the ultimate essence: to live as arrows that strike five or six times, not just three.
What do you think?
Share below whether you would like to learn more about how to live your life as an arrow.
Does asking just three questions around Purpose, Power, and Presence give you the focus and direction to make better decisions?