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The Archer and the General

By Michael Lane, Executive Director, Delve Christian Ministries
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The General did not look up as the tent flap lifted and two men entered silently. They waited patiently, heads bowed, while the General finished the paperwork on his desk and then finally lifted his eyes to greet them. On cue, the larger of the two men stepped forward, bowed deeply, and announced the other man.

“General, may I present the promising young archer we spoke of this morning?”, he asked, indicating the man to his left, who then confidently took his own step forward to regain his place at the side of the other man.

“General,” the archer began, “it is an honour to meet you.”

The General showed no emotion. With a barely perceptible motion of his hand, he dismissed the first man and focused his concentration on the young archer who stood unflinchingly before the General’s intense gaze.

As soon as they were alone, the General asked quietly, “Have you come to serve me?”

“I have,” replied the archer with no hesitation.

“We shall see,” the General said quietly, seemingly more to himself than to his guest. The comment left the archer with a look of curiosity on his face, but he said nothing.

As if suddenly coming out of a trance, the General perked up, his eyes bright. He quickly located a note on his desk and began to read aloud.

“You’ve won every archery tournament in the southern part of the country in the last eighteen months. No one seems to be able to match you for strength or for distance. You were a soldier for hire, a mercenary as it were, for the past two years, and now you’ve come to me. Why?”

The archer had expected and prepared for this question. His answer came out smoothly with a deliberate, practiced cadence. “You command the greatest army the world has ever known. You fight the forces of evil with courage and skill, and you never lose a battle. When your army wins this war, the reward and glory will be incredible. It’s something I’d like to be a part of.”

“The glory and riches?” the General asked, “Is that what you mean?”

“Well, yes,” the archer replied, and for the first time his voice betrayed a hint of uncertainty. This meeting was not going exactly as he had seen it in his mind.

“You told me earlier you’d come to serve. Have you come to serve me, or to share in glory and riches?”

The archer paused and drew in breath before he spoke, trying to calm his racing mind. Where was this going? What was he getting at?

“Well, I’ve come to do both. I assumed that those who serve you and help you win this war would share in the glory and treasure of the victory.”

“Those who serve me faithfully will, indeed,” The General smiled warmly, and the archer, who assumed he had just passed some test which he did not quite understand, exhaled in relief.

“What you must understand,” the General continued, “is that everyone who comes to me humbly and sincerely is permitted to join my army. I turn away no one. We don’t win because we have the most highly skilled soldiers. Some of the most talented fighters in the world fight for the other side, or as you until recently chose to do, fight for neither side.”

“No, we win because of my leadership and because of the passion, dedication and commitment of this army. They love me. They will do anything for me. Do you understand?”

“That’s why I’m here,” the archer replied.

In reality, the archer did not understand at all. He came from a world where the more skilled fighter always won. He knew only a world where the army with the most soldiers was victorious. The General’s ideas about love, passion and commitment were foreign to him. But he said nothing, only nodding as the General spoke on.

When the General had finished speaking, the archer paused for a moment, and then enquired softly, “Shall I be tasked with leading your archers, then?” He could not mask the eagerness that had crept into his voice at the prospect. The reward that would be his at the end of the war would be simply unimaginable.

The General sat up quickly, genuine puzzlement evident on his face. “Why ever would you think that?” he asked.

“I thought it likely that I am the most skilled archer in your army”, he replied. There was no trace of hubris in his voice, and he spoke as one simply stating a fact that is self-evident.

The General sat back down into his chair and nodded, smiling slightly. “Indeed”, he said. “That’s more than likely. But good heavens! Leading men to do a thing has little to do with the thing itself! None of my leaders are the best at the thing they lead others to do. If they were, then they would not be doing their job!”

“I don’t understand,” the archer said. He was once more experiencing the dreadful feeling that this meeting was not going at all as planned.

The General continued. “No matter how great you might be, you will never be more deadly on a battlefield than a combined twenty archers that you could train. But the ability to train them has little to do with being good at archery! It has much more to do with leadership, which itself is all about knowing when to push hard and drive someone, and when to pull back and comfort them.”

“And after they have been trained, what good are they to you if they will not shoot when you tell them to shoot? You need to earn their respect and loyalty, even their love, so that they will be willing to lay down their life for you when you call for it. This, once again I must tell you, has nothing to do with archery.”

The General continued, “You, young man, are a tremendous archer. Perhaps the very best around. But that has nothing to do with leading others and helping them to become better. The Captain I currently have leading my archers is an excellent archer but will never have your skill with a bow. Yet, he is an incredible, inspirational leader. He will train up and lead a hundred men and they will collectively do more for me on the battlefield than you ever can with a single bow. Do you understand?”

The young man felt numb all over. His mind was racing and he could not think of a reply. Could he serve under a Captain who lacked his own skill? It had simply never occurred to him. The best man for the job – that was always his view of how things should be. Somewhere deep down, he was beginning to process what the General was saying about leadership, but the idea was still too fresh to coalesce. He stood before the General, a mix of frustration, anger and bewilderment filling him.

The General did not seem to mind the long pause after his question. He leaned back in his chair waiting patiently for the reply. Eventually, the archer collected himself and asked, “Shall I report to the Captain, then?”

“No,” the General said simply. “Please report to the Quarter-Master.” He lowered his head and began to return to the paper work on his desk. His tone seemed to suggest that the conversation had reached its conclusion.

“Um, yes, to get supplies first?” the archer asked tentatively. He was still feeling rattled, and no longer able to predict what was going on or what might happen next. His discomfort had grown to full-blown anxiety. He had never met a man like the General, so unimpressed with his considerable talent and potential.

“Ah, no, he will be your commanding officer,” the General corrected, still looking down at the papers on his desk.

“I beg your pardon?” the archer asked, struggling to hide his growing frustration.

The General’s eyes displayed no emotion as he once more looked up from his desk to address the man. “You will serve in my army by bringing food and water to the archers when they have been on the battlefield for a long time, waiting for the battle to begin, and have begun to grow hungry and thirsty.”

His outburst was sudden and uncontrolled. “Is this supposed to be some kind of joke!?” the archer demanded. His cheeks began to flush with anger. He understood the tremendous power held by the man before him, and knew that he could be executed on the spot for such a display of anger. Despite this, he could not control his confusion and rage. He went on, “You don’t want me to lead your archers? Fine. But now, you want me to fetch food and water for men who have one tenth of my ability? Why in the world would you waste my talent in this way?”

The General paid no attention to the anger rising in the man standing before him. His reply was calm and patient, displaying no hint that he was upset with the outburst he had just witnessed. He stood slowly, eventually towering over the young man as he spoke.

“My first question to you was a simple one. I asked if you had come to serve me. You said that you had. I was very careful in my wording. I did not ask if you had come to share your skill with a bow. I simply asked about serving. But you do not want to serve me. What you want is to be the best archer in the greatest army in the world. That has nothing to do with me and everything to do with you – your needs, your wants, your desires and your glory.”

“If you want to test my loyalty,” the young man exclaimed, “then surely you can find a way to do so without wasting such talent!”

“I am not testing your loyalty. This is war – I don’t have time for tests and games. I simply don’t want you on that battlefield next to the rest of my archers. Do you want to know why?” the General asked.

Still furious, the young man could offer little more than a quick nod of his head.

The General continued, “I told you that we win because my people are loyal to me. They will do whatever I ask because they trust me and they love me. But you only want to be an archer. So what happens when the enemy survives our arrows and charges at you on horseback? In that moment, I will command you to pick up a sword, a weapon you know nothing about, and will order you to fight to the death. Will you do it? I don’t believe you will. You might have more skill with a bow than any other archer in my army, but they are soldiers first and archers second. They will use whichever weapon is appropriate at any given moment. I have asked them to use a bow today, but they will use a spear or a sword or their bare hands if I demand it. You on the other hand will cling to that bow until you draw your last breath.”

He paused here, contemplating, before he spoke again. He continued more forcefully, as though reaching a conclusion. “Your refusal to drop your bow and trust me when I order you to wield another weapon – it may get you killed, it may get your comrades killed and it is the reason why you may not, at this time, serve as an archer in my army.”

“But…” the young man began, stammering.

“Enough!” The General’s patience broke suddenly and his eyes began to burn with fury at this young man. He seemed to grow larger as he walked around desk and stood directly before him. “You don’t want to serve me! You only want the glory of being the best archer in the best army. My army! That has very little value to me. Believe me when I say that I am not inventing menial tasks for you, I am not punishing you and I am certainly not seeking to waste your talent. Truly, I require someone to bring those soldiers food and water. That is my most pressing need, here and now, and that has value to me. I ask you again, once and for all. Will you serve me?”

All the anger had left the archer. He had been reduced to feeling like a very young boy, scolded by his father. He was just beginning to understand everything that was really happening in this camp. It took all his remaining strength and courage to look up and meet the General’s eyes. He asked quietly, “Am I never to be an archer? Will you really ask you me to serve you if it means giving up the thing I love the most?”

Compassion returned to the General’s voice. “Son”, he began. “I know your worth. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that I don’t. I know what you can do with the bow. When you want to serve me, with all your heart, in any capacity, I will probably allow you to become an archer on the battlefield. Truthfully, there is a chance I might not. But know this. If you serve me devotedly, in whatever place I have for you, then when this war is over I promise that you will share in riches and glory just the same as the Captain of my archers and my must decorated swordsman. You will be rewarded according to the faithfulness and dedication with which you did the job I gave you, not the prestige of the job itself.”

The General took a deep breath, stepped forward and placed his hands on the other man’s shoulders. “The time has come to decide, my son. Please go see the Quarter Master, or else you may still get on your horse and ride home. I’ve been honest with you about what I need and what you can expect. I want you here, but I’ll not make you stay against your will.”

After a brief pause and a smile full of compassion and understanding, the General resumed his seat at his desk and turned his attention to his papers. The young man turned and left the tent, as quietly as when he had first entered.

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