Daily Archives: March 20, 2010

Finding Meaning In Your Atacama Experience

When I moved to Pasadena, California to go to seminary, I remember asking a student there how much rain the area gets every year.

“Oh, I think we’ve had rain once or twice since we moved here a year ago,” he replied.

That’s dry!

But that’s not the driest place on earth. The driest desert in the world is not the Sahara desert in Africa or Death Valley in California. It’s the Atacama desert in Chile. The average rainfall in the Chilean region of Antofagasta receives about 1 millimeter (0.04 in) per year. That’s 50 times drier than Death Valley. Some weather stations in the Atacama have never received rain. Evidence suggests that the Atacama may not have had any significant rainfall from 1570 to 1971.

Do you ever feel like you’re living in the Atacama desert? Hot. Dry. Devoid of life. Alone.

Join me today as we look for meaning of our Atacama experiences.

Although I’m taking a little holiday, I’m back in the saddle for a day because I messed up my guest blogger assignments. You’ll read more about it on Monday. But if you think about it, pray for me and my wife Kelley as we run the Los Angeles Marathon tomorrow morning.


Numbers 30:1-31:54
Luke 4:1-30
Psalm 63:1-11
Proverbs 11:20-21


Numbers 30. The beginning of this chapter reads, “When a man makes a vow to the Lord or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said” (italics added).

I don’t know about you, but I don’t always follow through on my intentions. In fact, I can name plenty of times that I haven’t followed through on my marriage vows to honor and cherish my wife. If lust falls under the category of being unfaithful to my wife, then I’ve broken that marriage vow, too.

Immediately after reading these instructions about vows, my mind went to Jesus’ words,

“Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool…Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”

So here’s how I respond to Numbers 30: I avoid making vows and pledges whenever I can. That doesn’t mean I avoid making commitments, but I understand my fallenness and would rather walk in integrity than commit myself to things to which I may not follow through.

Numbers 31. Note that Balaam was one of the men killed in Israel’s battle against Midian (verse 8).

Also notice that the commanders of Israel’s army saved the lives of the Midianite women. These were the same women who lured them into idolatry in chapter 25. My hunch is, the commanders preserved their lives because they knew them. But Moses understood that if the women were saved, they would lure the leaders into idolatry again. That’s why Moses was angry.

Although we read that the Midianites were destroyed (except for the young girls), we read later in Judges 6-8 that they opposed Israel in battle (the story of Gideon). How can they rise up when they were utterly defeated? Apparently, the Midianites were a widespread confederation of tribes, associated with the Amalekites, Moabites, Ishmaelites and others. The Midianites in Numbers 31 were from Moab.

Luke 4:1-13. We’ll take a closer look at this in the Word Made Fresh.

Luke 4:14-30. Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, enters the synagogue and proclaims that he is the fulfillment of prophecy. So how did the religious leaders respond? They drove him out of town. Just because people respond negatively to you doesn’t mean that God hasn’t sent you.

Psalm 63. What an appropriate psalm to read as we take a look our wilderness experiences. After reading The Word Made Fresh, read through this psalm again. This is an example of a man who prepared his heart well in advance of his wilderness experience.

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“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.” Luke 4:1-2

This is one of the most intriguing verses in Scripture. To launch his ministry, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. What a strange way to begin.

This doesn’t mean that God was tempting Jesus to sin. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught to pray, “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” God never entices us to do evil. Satan tried to take advantage of Jesus in the midst of his testing, but God wasn’t tempting him to sin.

But it’s interesting that the word for “tempt” also means “to test.” Before launching him into his ministry, God tested Jesus to ensure that he was ready to go. So how did he do it? He sent him into the wilderness.

This leads me to believe that, as difficult as it may be, the wilderness is not the abandonment of God. It’s a test to see what’s inside.

Think back to the days when you were a student. The purpose of a test was to measure what you knew. Sometimes I took tests that were learning experiences—and those were the ones that I failed miserably. But when I prepared in advance and actually studied, I usually survived with nary a scratch. This works in everyday life as well.

Although the wilderness can be a learning experience, more times than not it’s the test to discern what we already know and who we already are.

If you’re going through a wilderness experience, you may feel as if God has abandoned you. But what if God sent you there to test you before launching you into a greater phase of your life? My advice to you would then be, “Don’t give up. Hang on until it’s over.”

But if you’re going through a wilderness experience and you’re failing miserably, then learn from it. Let your wilderness experience forge your character so you won’t fail next time.

I understand that this is easier said than done, but I’m learning that “random” difficult experiences are often tests that God gives me before moving me forward.

Notice Luke’s words as Jesus emerged from his desert experience: “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit” (Luke 4:14). If you hang on and avoid the shortcuts, this could be your story as well.


  1. What spoke to your heart in today’s reading?
  2. Wilderness experiences rarely give us advance warning that they’re coming. How do you prepare for your wilderness experiences?
  3. Describe a time when you experienced your Atacama. What is a proving ground for your character or a learning experience?
  4. How does reading Luke 4:14-30 affect your definition of  “success” in ministry?

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Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado.

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