“The only thing that separates us from the animals is our ability to accessorize.” – Steel Magnolias 

Those who know me also know that I love a colorful scarf, sparkly earrings, or statement necklace. I’ve been known to choose a sport (or not) based on the accompanying attire.  So it’s no surprise that when I decided to join my husband in his favorite outdoor activity – hiking –my first question was “What do we wear?” Hiking boots aren’t up there with heeled pumps, but by the time I managed to coordinate socks, pants, shirt, cap, and backpack, I was one….wait for it….happy camper!

On our latest trip we added a new kind of gear: trekking poles. While it might seem that walking along a trail is pretty straightforward proposition, the addition of something to hang on to and use for balance proved invaluable to these fifty-three year-old knees. They also provided a welcome opportunity for reflection. As Steve and I made our way up the side of Lookout Mountain, I couldn’t help but notice how much my set of poles was a lot like the set of tools God gives each one of us. The spiritual disciplines of Bible study and prayer are more than just accessories to our Christian walk. They are necessities for our Christian life!

Whether you’ve been a member of God’s covenant family since last week or the last century, prayer, Bible reading, and Bible study help us to grow. But like any set of tools, it helps to learn how to use them. When I started down the trail with my poles (Really? How hard can this be?) I’m sure I resembled a windmill in a blender. They flew every which way! Soon though, I found my rhythm. My hiking partner encouraged me and reminded me that I was indeed making progress. It’s the same with reading and studying our bibles. Sometimes it seems like everyone else is better at it than we are, when really, maybe they’ve just been doing it longer. Probably they had someone walk alongside them and give them help too. Learning to become proficient and confident in any endeavor is a matter of time and persistence. Don’t worry about practice making you perfect. Practice will make you better.

Making my way up the trail, I found myself growing complacent and even weary. Oops! Instead of using my poles, I was just carrying them. That is not what they were designed for! Once again I started to notice the similarities to God’s word. On my shelf, my Bible isn’t doing anyone any good.  And what good were my poles if they weren’t out in front of me?  Just as I can pray and ask God for wisdom and discernment, I could use the pole’s tip to test the ground ahead. Soft or firm? Icy or wet? They helped me know, literally, what I was walking into. Have you ever been nervous about what to expect in a new situation? Not sure if you have what it takes? As my poles helped me gain and secure a foothold, I stayed balanced and upright instead of tumbling head over heels. It only took one near miss on an icy rock to remind me how necessary they were.

Let’s face it. Not everyone sees the benefit of these extra appendages. They aren’t very glamorous. (I’m quite sure one of my children thought the next step was a fanny-pack.) But who needs glamour when you can go faster? Because of the way the poles distribute the weight and the load, you can hike more efficiently and more effectively. The load is easier and the burden is lighter. Now where have we heard that before?

I don’t think it’s any accident at all that our Christian life is compared to a walk. In Ephesians, many times, we are told how to walk: “in good works” (2:10), “in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (4:1), “in love” (5:2), “as children of the light” (5:8), and “as wise” (5:15). Whether your journey with Christ takes you up mountain trails or down city sidewalks, may His word keep your feet firmly planted!

2016_jan_renee-2aRenee Mathis attends Christ Church PCA in Katy, Texas. She serves on the women’s ministry team, as a regional advisor for the PCA women’s ministry, and an advisory board member for Covenant College. When she’s not enjoying her 5 children and 6 grandchildren, she teaches English, reads books, and drinks coffee.