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In-Between Ministry and Miracles: The Purpose of the Wilderness

Jan 31, 2016 10:05AM ● By Bonnie Lyn Smith

I took a deep breath and carried out my plan. I had prayed about it for a week, wondering if it was the right thing. I read the Bible, poured out my heart to God, and then quieted myself to listen for a response. What I heard as confirmation came from several trusted sources speaking in unity.

It was very difficult and painful, but it was very important. I didn’t treat it lightly. I was incredibly afraid to act on anything without God speaking into it. It’s not that I thought a lightning bolt would strike me down in a moment of acting solo and impetuously. I simply knew that not consulting God did not yield good fruit. I had to remain in the Vine as my source.

John 15:1-9, ESV, Jesus speaking 

"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.

Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.

Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.”

Before I made a big move, I went to my own personal wilderness to pray. I’ve learned the hard way over time that I tend to be rash and make hasty decisions. I needed situations, trials, and heartaches to discipline me in self-control, patience, and seeking counsel. Oh, and chipping away at that whole pride thing. There’s that.

This wasn’t something that came to me on my own. I found it while teaching our Junior High Sunday School class about Jesus’s miracles.

We discovered that in-between ministry and miracles, Jesus often got away from the crowds.

Luke 5:15-16, ESV, Luke the Physician narrating

But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities.

But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray [emphasis mine].

I used to think Jesus was introverted like me. I don’t handle crowds or big gatherings well. The doorbell completely freaks me out when I’m not expecting it.

The truth is that Jesus was gaining popularity and momentum in His ministry, and to regain focus, He drew away many times to speak to His Father in heaven.

That’s when I started to get the idea I could do that too. In those deepest, widest, biggest places where I needed ministry and miracles, I had to regroup through time alone with God.

We also learned in class that Jesus often gave thanks before performing a miracle.

Isn’t that so counterintuitive to our own thinking? Don’t we usually wait for the answered prayer before we express our grateful hearts—if we even do?

John 11:41-43, ESV, Apostle John narrating

So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, "Father, I thank you that you have heard me.

I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me."

When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out."

With Lazarus four days dead and buried, Jesus walked up to the tomb, gave thanks ahead of the miracle, and commanded Lazarus to come out.

Um, what now?

And how about the miracle of the loaves and fishes? Check this out:

Mark 6:41-46, ESV, Apostle John-Mark narrating

And taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all.

And they all ate and were satisfied.

And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish.

And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.

Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd.

And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray [emphases mine].

There it is again. He looked up to heaven to thank His Father before multiplying the loaves to feed 5,000 men, plus women and children.

What exactly did He do after the miracle? He sent the disciples out so that He could go to the mountain to pray.

So, I’m just wondering:

Are you finding yourself in a wilderness, somewhat isolated, maybe a little stuck? 

Did you know that wilderness has purpose and meaning? We are actually blessed when we end up in the quiet, in a desolate place or on the mountain alone? We are in the best position, fixed between ministry and the miracle, to look up to heaven and pray.

Faith is thanking God for what He’s about to do, even if the time between thanking and answer seems long to us. It’s not long for God.

I had a significant decision to make. This time, I remembered to take much-needed space and wait on God to lead me. That was His ministry.

Now I thank Him for what He’s about to do and wait it out. His answers and leading don’t always make sense to me, but my job is to be obedient. This current situation is not my desired outcome, but I’m still this side of the miracle, knowing He will act on my behalf and letting Him hold me steady in the wilderness while I wait.

That’s a beautiful place, by the way—the wilderness—but only if we’re looking up and talking to our Father in heaven. I wouldn’t want to hang out there truly alone.

What about you? 

What are your desolate places?

Do you use that time wisely to listen for God’s counsel, to soothe yourself with His heartbeat?

Don’t fight your wilderness. It’s merely the holy ground between 

His ministry to your heart 


the miracle He wants to do in your life.


Author Bonnie Lyn Smith writes about parenting, marriage, mental health advocacy, special education, faith in the valleys of life, the healing cloak of Jesus, drawing healthy boundaries, relational healing, renewing our minds, walking with a Holy God, and much ado about grace. Join the conversation at Espressos of Faith.

Her book, Not Just on Sundays: Seeking God’s Purpose in Each New Day, offers anecdotes on all of these subjects and Scripture for each situation as well as Book Discussion Questions for deeper exploration.



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