Last Saturday, I had an unexpected opportunity to take my first snowshoe trek of the winter season. It wasn’t a sure thing that I’d be able to get back to the desired trail, but the snow wasn’t too deep where the plowing stopped, and several other vehicles had already made tracks. The temperature was just right, the time became available and so I found myself descending into the hard wood forest toward the river somewhere ahead. As we often do, I based my expectations for this journey on previous experiences but found (to my delight) that muscles weren’t burning, snowshoes weren’t getting tangled, and my legs weren’t getting tired. So, I kept walking…and walking…and walking. This is a bit of a miracle considering that every trip over the past two years (the sum total of my snowshoeing experience) included frequent stops to breathe and rest muscles. But here I was on the first hike of my third year enjoying the quiet, taking in the beautiful scenery, and following the evenly-spaced blue trail markers! You should know that I’m in no better shape physically than when I first tried out this mode of transportation, so why the big difference? It is simply familiarity. Not the kind that leads to taking things for granted, but the kind that allows for the mastery of basics. In any endeavor, this process comes into play whether it is learning a musical instrument, a new video game, or a new life skill. At first you have to look down, pay attention, go step-by-step (I still remember during driver-training running off the road every time I rolled the window down). But after repeated, consistent practice, the basics became second-nature (a part of you) and you can really start to enjoy yourself! How true this is in our relationship with Jesus. Much of what I write is about the basics of faith or reminders of them, but my heart is toward the pure joy in our relationship with Him that blossoms as we move up from or build on those basics. The writer of the New Testament book called Hebrews was thinking about this issue too, “You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right. Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong.” Hebrews 5:12–14 (NLT). The line between the basics and maturity is hard to put into words but it shows up as a shift from obligation to privilege. We start knowing there is good in reading the Bible and then we transition into the love of soaking in it and searching for views of God and direction for life. At first, prayer is awkward and stumbling (and forget about doing it in public). But as the familiarity grows, real conversation with the Creator opens up and the answers start to flow. In the beginning, helping others (and loving our enemies) is an exercise in forced behavior, but suddenly the love flows into us toward others because He loves them, and our serving opens up too. This is the place where you can look up, enjoy the quiet, the divinely created scenery, and follow the trail markers! Isn’t that attractive? Well, there’s only one way to get there, and it is through a consistent practice (heart involved, not just head) of those same basics (mature believers have to look down and pay attention from time to time too). As a gauge of your progress, it could be beneficial to pay attention to what you do when under pressure. When finances get tough, relationships hit difficulty or anxiety builds to overflowing, where do you turn? Is it toward God and his people, or do you retreat into self or distractions of the world? Although those things seem easier, they actually keep us from walking in the flow of the Holy Spirit. The joy of the trail overtakes us when we push through to Jesus when things get hard. As Paul said in the New testament book of Galatians, “…let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.” Galatians 6:9 (NLT). Where are you tempted to give up today?