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As a reader and a writer, I feel I have some sense of duty to let others know about what I’m reading and what I’m gaining from it. I just finished Erwin McManus’s The Last Arrow. Here’s an informal review.

This book was inspiring and energizing, and it’ll no doubt help you do some soul-searching as you think about what it would take to leave this life with an “empty quiver.” McManus grounds the book in Elisha’s interaction with Joash, a king of Israel. When Elisha tells the king to strike the ground with his arrows, the king stops after striking the ground only three times. He is scolded for this, and then told that he will strike back against Syria only three times. Had he kept striking the arrows, perhaps until he ran out, he would have completely defeated his enemies.

The question, for McManus, is will you strike every arrow God has placed in your hands and die with an empty quiver, or will you give up early and settle for less than the great future God is calling you to?

What I Loved

Here’s a short list of takeaways I was blessed with in reading this book.

  1. Stop underestimating God’s plans for your life. We dream too small. We need to give up on trying to limit our future, and give in to letting God lead it.
  2. What are the arrows God is asking you to strike right now? Everyone has arrows to strike, a calling to fulfill some responsibility to carry out for the sake of God’s great name. What’s yours? Think about this. And then ask yourself where you’re prone to settle instead of strike.
  3. Be faithful in the small things, when no one is noticing, because this is part of your preparation for something greater. We tend to fixate on who and where we want to be and neglect the gravity of the things right in front of us. God is not going to take shortcuts in your spiritual development. He uses every detail to shape you to his Son’s image. Stop acting as if the “little things” in your life are “little.” They’re not. 
  4. God is calling you into community, so find your “people.” No matter what God’s calling is for your life, it’s not a calling to isolation and individualism. You need to find your group of like-minded and like-hearted others, your tribe (as Seth Godin would put it). When God does something great through one person, it’s really always through multiple people. We just don’t see the supporters behind the front runner.
  5. Your goal each day should be to go to sleep with an empty quiver. The best way to make sure you strike all of the arrows you have is to make the decision ahead of time, before the day actually begins, to be ready to embrace the opportunities God will give you. “Know what you’re about,” as McManus would say, and be ready to say “yes” when the door opens. In other words, your mind should already be resolved before an opportunity arises.

What I Would Have Liked

Since I’m a trained theologian, I should offer a few points by way of soft critique, with the caveat that I really enjoyed this book!

  1. There is not as explicit a focus on Christ’s work for us as I would have liked to see. There’s more of an emphasis on Christ as an example. While he certainly is an example, he’s also done all that we couldn’t do, despite our most valiant efforts. In other words, we have the opportunity to strike all of our arrows because Christ struck of all his arrows. 
  2. McManus doesn’t focus on how the Holy Spirit is the driving power behind our efforts. This is a subtle but significant problem for me. Yes, we need to give all that we have to take full advantage of the opportunities God gives us. But we lack the ability in and of ourselves. When we take the opportunity, when we strike an arrow, the Holy Spirit is fully responsible for that. God is working in us to do more than we can hope or imagine. Oftentimes, the emphasis of The Last Arrow falls on us, not on God. I firmly believe that McManus does not intend to send that message, but it’s there in his emphasis. So, if you read the book, be careful not to misunderstand him.
  3. The biblical story that he bases the book on isn’t interpreted with reference to Christ. Again, this is a subtle but significant problem. While we can take lessons from the Old Testament narratives, we can quickly fall into moralism if we don’t see how Christ fulfills what the passage is calling for. This is related to my first point. Before applying the passage of Elisha and Joash to our spiritual life, we need to see how it’s actually a passage about Christ. This often changes our application.

Should You Read the Book?

Yes! Despite my criticisms, this book is well worth your time. It delivers a message that Christians in the West desperately need to hear and implement. And McManus’s passion is contagious. I look forward to reading some of his other books in the near future, particularly The Artisan Soul and The Barbarian Way.


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