A few days ago I went up on Battle Mountain with my father-in-law and brother-in-law so that my brother-in-law could sight in his new rifle. My father-in-law stepped off the distance and set up several clay targets. Meanwhile, my brother-in-law carefully set up his bench rest on a downed tree trunk, set a couple of small sand bags on top of the rest, and did everything necessary to get himself properly situated to get a steady shooting position. He would take a couple of shots, and then, based on the observations of my father-in-law, he would adjust the scope settings up or down, left or right in order to get the scope sighted as accurately as possible.
As I was watching and thinking about this process I realized how similar it is the process for sighting in life, too. We have to read the Bible in order to know how we ought to live. Similarly, someone (I assume) should read the owner’s manual for a new rifle and/or scope in order to understand the manufacturer’s specifications and the proper operation of the equipment. However, simply reading the Bible is not enough, just as reading the owner’s manual in and of itself would be of little value. Only by living out the instructions in God’s Word does the Bible have any meaningful impact, just as only by shooting the rifle will it be of any value. However, living out our lives–or shooting a rifle–is still not enough, because quite frankly it is highly unlikely that we will get it right the first time (in life or with the rifle).
As I mentioned, after a couple of shots there would be an evaluation of how close the shots were coming to the selected target, and then adjustments would be made accordingly. Similarly, we need to regularly evaluate our lives by pausing to see how close we are coming to the target of living in accordance with God’s instructions. When we see that are missing the mark, we need to make adjustments in order to bring our lives closer to the bullseye. We may remember from reading Scripture before what we need to do, or we may need to go back to our “owner’s manual” and remind ourselves how the Designer intends us to live. Then, we take another shot or two before we stop and evaluate again. With persistence and careful calibration we should be able to bring the rifle or the scope to the point that we can hit exactly what we aim at. Likewise, we should eventually get to the point where we live in a manner that allows us consistently hit the mark of living a godly life.
With a rifle, it is fairly obvious whether or not the target is hit. It takes closer inspection sometimes to see how far off the shot was, or in which direction, but even the casual observer can usually see whether or not the marksman hit his target. It is not always quite so obvious in life, though the more attuned we are to God’s Word the easier it should be for us to readily see how close we are to the target. Even a marksman that hits his target dead one with one shot, though, will sometimes miss the next time. When that happens, it is time to reevaluate. In life, we may handle a situation exactly the way God would want us to, and then blow it the next time. That means we need to reevaluate our lives, too. It may be that the scope needs to be re-sighted in order for it to remain accurate. Similarly, we may need to make some adjustments by checking our understanding and studying anew how we are to behave and speak and live out our salvation. Sometimes, though, the scope is still sighted accurately but the marksman shifted as he shot, or closed his eye, or got distracted, or…whatever. Somehow, the one pulling the trigger caused the shot to miss the mark even though the scope was sighted perfectly. Truth is, this is most often what will be the case in our lives. Assuming we understand the Scripture accurately and know how to apply it to our lives, our “scope” will not be the problem. The problem will be us–the flawed and fallible humans “pulling the trigger.” The circumstances of life, whatever they may be, can cause us to miss the mark…even when there is absolutely nothing wrong with our sights. Just like the responsible and effective marksman we must acknowledge our error and do everything we can to eliminate the possibility of that same disruption occurring again.
The marksman may use a stand, a shooting block, sandbags, or any number of other devices in order to help keep his rifle steady as he shoots. Some will be quite effective standing up, shouldering the rifle and taking the shot with no aides. Neither is right or wrong…success is measured only by whether or not the target is hit. In the same way, there may be times when we need to utilize aides to help us stay steady in our Christian walk. These aides may include Christian friends, accountability partners, regular attendance and participation in church, daily Bible reading and time in prayer, Christian music, Christian books, sermons on radio/CD/MP3…and so on. The point is, the aides that I find helpful and necessary in order to keep my life steady and on target may not look exactly the same as yours…but neither of us is right in what we choose to utilize. And, what I need in some situations may be very different from what I need in others; what I need one week may not be what I need the next.
What we do all need, however, is a submissive attitude to the leading and guiding of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The Spirit will inform us–quietly, usually, but accurately–whether or not we missed the target, by how much and in what direction. Then He will tell us what adjustments need to be made, so that we can hit the target the next time.