In late medieval England (11th-15thC) a very powerful weapon was developed called the 'war bow' or ‘long bow’. It was, as the name suggests, an extremely long bow, usually about the height of a man. They were made from the wood of the Yew tree which had the best qualities for power and durability.
Yew trees are traditionally grown in English church grounds and have long been associated with spirituality. The yew tree is a very long lasting tree and was seen by ancient Britons as the ‘tree of life’ because it out-lived most people. Its dense evergreen covering also provided shelter making it an ideal place to hold meetings under its branches. In time this became the natural place to then erect a building for Christian services - therefore a church was often near a yew tree. Yew trees continued to be planted in church grounds as the ‘tree of life’.
Sap Wood and Heart Wood
If you look at a cross section of the Yew tree trunk there is an easy distinction to be made between the sap wood and the heart wood.
The sap wood is the pale outer ring. The life of the tree flows in the sap wood; it is young, flexible and full of life. On the other hand, the older sapwood gradually forms the darker heart wood which is solid and strong. All trees start off life as saplings without any heart wood. They are flexible and fresh and not a little vulnerable to predators. On the other hand the heart wood forms over time with the maturity of the tree and gives it longevity and stature.
The Nature of The Long Bow
The long bow itself is a section of the Yew tree taken from both the sap and the heart wood so that the bow has a two tone appearance.
In this photograph we can quite clearly see the paler sap wood at the front of the bow and the darker heart wood at the back. When the archer draws the string the sap wood on the front is stretched and the heart wood on the back is compressed.
There is a spiritual parallel for us here. The Holy Spirit is streams of living water, he is alive and at work in our lives. In the believer the sap wood represents this submissive, flexible life. It is this quality that enables us to rejoice when God declares, 'behold I do a new thing' and be free from 'the tyranny of the familiar'. It is our openness to let God be God and not to limit him to our own human understanding. The power of the sap wood in the long bow is in being stretched. It is our ability to follow the flow of the Spirit no matter where He leads or how uncomfortable it makes us. Do you ever feel stretched by the Holy Spirit? He can use that to demonstrate great power.
However, if the bow were just sap wood it would not reach its full potential; it also needs the heart wood. The heart wood represents aspects of our faith which are established and strong. It is important that this wood is formed by the sap wood, it must not come from any other source. The heartwood in our lives is formed by keeping faith and trusting God through difficult times. When Jim Elliot (martyred 1956 in Ecuador) said 'He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose' he was talking about this kind of immovability. It is the core of who we are in Christ. The power of the heart wood in the long bow is in being compressed. Often it is through trials and tribulations that we enter into the Kingdom of God. Do you ever feel under pressure? Again, this can be used by God for a powerful and effective purpose.
These two elements working together make a formidable weapon. They are like the Spirit and the Word working together in perfect harmony.
He Trains my Hands
A conventional bow string is drawn back to the eye. In this way the archer can look down the shaft of the arrow and take aim. The short bow was particularly effective for hunting and in close range battle against men unprotected by armour.
However, the medieval long bow arrow could travel up to 250 metres (about the same as a golf ball driven by a competent golfer) and tipped with a sharp metal bodkin could pierce chain mail or even plate armour. To use the full power of the long bow the draw string needed to be pulled back to the archer's ear and so the relationship of the eye to the arrow was broken. The long bow archer therefore had to learn how to fire arrows through pure experience and intuition. In this way it could be lethally accurate even at a great distance.
This speaks to us about learning how to live by faith because scripture says that we do not live by sight but by faith in God (2 Cor 5:7). Faith is not static but dynamic and develops spiritual depth in our lives over time.
Then there was the sheer strength of the archer. A modern competition bow has a draw weight of about 18Kg. However a longbow in medieval times had a draw weight of at least 54Kg. A modern suitcase packed for a long haul flight can weigh up to 23Kg. Try lifting that with one hand up to head height and then imagine doubling it. The archer would draw this weight with just his index and middle fingers all the way back to the ear. To do this once would be impressive but these guys could release 5-6 arrows per minute (much faster than the alternative cross bow which had to be mechanically wound). In battle context 5,000 arches could release up to 30,000 arrows a minutes - this deadly spectacle would darken the sky.
How was this possible? All men who mastered the long bow started training at a young age. In fact in medieval England a law was passed to encourage all boys to do so and competitions and training (particularly on Sundays) became very popular. In order to develop the phenomenally strong shoulder and arm muscles needed to use the full size bow about 10 years of training was needed, ideally starting from youth. In fact archaeologists have discovered skeletons from this period with massively over developed arm, chest and back muscles. You can't just pick up a long bow and fire it – it takes commitment and dedication. There are no short cuts.
In his book 'A Celebration of Discipline' Richard Foster writes, “The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people.”
I believe that the Lord in his grace and wisdom can empower a new believer to do amazing supernatural exploits from the moment he or she believes. For example I have seen a new Christian immediately lay hands on the sick and see them healed. However, I also believe that, like the long bow, there are certain aspects of Kingdom authority that require ‘heart wood’ to be formed in the believer over time.
Heb 6:12 We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.
There is a reason we are called to make disciples. The very word disciple is the root of the word discipline. There is a process of maturity that comes through discipleship in the believers life.
In our consumer age of ‘instant everything’ it is hard for us to imagine we may have to work for or wait for anything. We have instant credit, instant purchasing, online entertainment. And yet God has ordained that the overcoming life should come through faith and patience.
When Jesus said of a certain ‘difficult’ case of deliverance, 'This sort only come out by prayer and fasting' I don't believe he meant that you need to schedule prayer and fasting before a deliverance session. He meant that there is a lifestyle of commitment to our heavenly Father that you have not yet attained, or in other words, you cannot pick up this long bow and just fire it, you need to develop a lifestyle of faith. You need to form the heart wood that will pierce the enemies armour.
The Epoch of the Longbow
Medieval warfare was dominated by the Knight class who lived by a strict code of conduct. In general these were rich landed gentry who could afford to live the lifestyle. Don't get me wrong, they were often formidable warriors who risked life and death for rich rewards. Open battles tended to be won by knights charging against enemy infantry on horseback, a most terrifying prospect for those on the receiving end. Once battle formation had been broken the slaughter would commence.
However, the advent of the English long bow men impacted this principle of war. There were several notable battles, namely Crecy 1346, Poitiers 1356, and Agincourt 1415 in the ‘100 year war*’ between England and France that particularly highlighted this power shift in battle dynamics. Where armies had been out-numbered and ‘out-gunned’ by knights in armour on horseback the long bow man was suddenly a new decisive military element.
I believe this is a picture of the shifting power among the established hierarchy in the church today. Formerly we may think of the church being dominated by particularly gifted individuals and leaders who seem to have the monopoly on the battlefield. What I mean by this is that there has been an emphasis on anointed individuals ministering to everyone else. But there is a new expression of gifting that is rising up in the church which like the phenomenon of the long bow men in Medieval England. It is for ‘the common man’, for the hundreds and thousands. It is for all those who are willing to stay the course and train in the things of the Spirit allowing Him to form both the life of the Spirit and the character of the Word in their lives.
The true fivefold ministers are equipping the saints to do the work of ministry instead of cultivating a reliance on themselves. Through these leaders God is raising up a people of power. These people are gaining in numbers and in strength and a new epoch in spiritual authority is dawning which will change the face of spiritual battle forever.
Job 29:20 My glory was fresh in me, and my bow was renewed in my hand.
About the author:
Rob Cresswell has been in active church and ministry leadership for over 15 years and is a gifted communicator. Along with his wife Aliss he partners in pioneering ministries which seek to engage with the unchurched and demonstrate the Kingdom of God. He has a heart to help train and equip believers into their callings. He is the author of 'What Next Jesus?' - a survival guide for new Christians.