Last weekend eight friends from across the country joined me in the Smoky Mountains for a girls' getaway. Now, I know what you're thinking: four days of sleeping in, eating out, and hitting the outlet malls. (After all, it WAS tax-free weekend!) As tempting as that plan sounds, our weekend looked very different.
And that is exactly what this weekend was all about. We didn't go into our time together with a plan. No schedule. No expectations. Instead, we each arrived with a desire to engage, to listen, to surrender, and to intercede. It was beautiful.
On Friday, we were all set to go tubing. How better to introduce outsiders to East Tennessee (other than a trip to Dollywood, perhaps)? Just as we were finishing lunch, however, thunder rumbled and the skies opened up with rain. Instead of withdrawing for naptime, we gathered in the living room and began to listen to Karen's story. Listening turned into praying.
It was like that throughout the weekend. One by one, we would talk about our lives, our fears, our desires, and where God is (or where we don't see him) at work. And we would pray. It was as natural and easy as having a conversation with a dear friend.
For much of my life I thought that for prayer to be effective it had to follow a certain formula. If I missed a step (i.e. confession), then my words would either not reach God's ears or he would dismiss me because I'd not followed correct protocol. What I'm learning is that only one thing is required for effective prayer: surrender.
When we surrender in prayer, we allow the Holy Spirit to guide us and to provide the words. Romans 8:26-27 explains it this way: "We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God."
Prayer (or any other part of our life in Christ) isn't about method, requirement, or duty. If it is fear-based or formulaic, then I'd pose it's not Spirit led. I've found that true communion - with God and with others - comes when we lay everything else down to be present and to surrender. My weekend left me with such gratitude: for beautiful friends who are following God, fierce allies who are willing to pray, a patient God who continues to shepherd me, and the sweet experience of surrendering in prayer.