A few years ago, the world was taken by storm by the Harry Potter books and movies - and why not? The characters and story line were compelling.
But also compelling was the fantasy of these young people learning the right spells, charms and potions to make things happen magically that they could not make happen naturally.
What is often missed however, is that there was no magic to the deepest themes in the book - friendship, courage, sacrificial love - no potion or charm was offered to help the characters learn these things.
They had to learn them as they went through a life that was filled with trials, tests and tragedies.
Sometimes, within our Christian faith, we think that Christianity should function a little more like magic - say the right prayer, practice the right spiritual exercise, worship in the right church - and God will "magically" make your life right and whole.
But the truth is that the major themes of our faith are arrived at only by the long pilgrimage of people who travel through a life that always includes trials, testing and tragedy, so as to arrive at the most worthwhile things in our faith - maturity, community, forgiveness, reconciliation and love.
This is what I think Psalm 23 communicates to us - God's abiding shepherding presence is available to us to guide us to green pastures and still waters, on right paths, and through dark valleys, until we are seated at God's banqueting table, and all the time, we are convinced that his love and mercy will follow us all of our days.
If you suffer now, if life is hard, if you are being tested, it doesn't necessarily mean you are doing anything wrong. Instead, it probably is God using these things to form in you what he deems best and most long lasting.
Trust him and look to him to guide you, and be convinced that his love and mercy will follow you all the days of your life.
Grace & Peace,