The English Oxford living dictionary defines the verb ‘travail’ as: “Engage in painful or laborious effort” or “a woman being in labour”
That is a definition that would put anybody off. The best definition I have found for Travailing Prayer is by James Goll, a significant prophetic voice in the USA.
“Travail is a form of intense intercession given by the Holy Spirit whereby an individual or group is gripped by something that grips God’s heart. The individual or group labours with Him for an opening to be created so that the new life can come forth.”1
A practical example of Travailing Prayer is given by Dutch Sheets, another American prophetic voice and intercessor:
“I was probably nine or ten years old and it occurred while praying for an unsaved aunt. One night as I lay in bed, I felt a strong burden to pray for her salvation. I remember getting out of my bed, onto my knees and weeping uncontrollably, asking God to save her… probably for thirty minutes or an hour. Finally, the burden lifted and I went to sleep.
My aunt lived about an hour and a half away from us. For some ‘unknown’ reason however, she called us later that week and said she wanted to come to our church that Sunday morning. We did not know at the time that she was actually coming to the service planning to give her life to Christ, and did.”
The most common association with the word ‘Travail’ is birthing which is not surprising as when one travails what is happening is that Holy Spirit is using you to birth His plans and purposes. Those plans may be to bring salvation to someone or to many, to bring rain in a drought, to bring healing to the sick etc.
There are many examples of Travailing Prayer in the Bible.
“Before she travailed, she brought forth; before her pain came, she was delivered of a man child. Who hath heard such a thing? who hath seen such things? Shall the earth be made to bring forth in one day? or shall a nation be born at once? for as soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children.” (Isaiah 66:7-8)
Zion represents Israel, but it also represents the Church, so this is a verse that relates to new believers coming to salvation through Travailing Prayer.
“And Elijah said unto Ahab, “Get thee up, eat and drink; for there is a sound of abundance of rain.” So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. And Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; and he cast himself down upon the earth, and put his face between his knees, and said to his servant, “Go up now, look toward the sea.” And he went up, and looked, and said, “there is nothing.” And he said, “Go again” seven times. And it came to pass at the seventh time, that he said, “Behold, there ariseth a little cloud out of the sea, like a man’s hand.” And he said, “Go up, say unto
Definition and Biblical Context:
Ahab, “Prepare thy chariot, and get thee down that the rain stop thee not.” (1 Kings 18:41-44)
Here Elijah is praying in the birthing position and birthed rain. Please note that in verse one of the Chapter the Lord tells Elijah that He is going to send rain. Travailing will always start with the Lord; it is not something we initiate. It might be a word from the Lord telling us what we are travailing for or you may find yourself travailing under the power of Holy Spirit and have no idea why.
In the New Testament:
“Jesus left the upper room with his disciples and, as was his habit, went to the Mount of Olives, his place of secret prayer. There he told the apostles, ‘Keep praying for strength to be spared from the severe test of your faith that is about to come.’ Then he withdrew from them a short distance to be alone. Kneeling down, he prayed, ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup of agony away from me. But no matter what, your will must be mine.’ Jesus called for an angel of glory to strengthen him, and the angel appeared. He prayed even more passionately, like one being sacrificed, until he was in such intense agony of spirit that his sweat became drops of blood, dripping onto the ground.” (Luke 22:39-44 TPT)
Through his prayers He achieved victory in the Spirit over the trial that was ahead of Him.
“To this day we are aware of the universal agony and groaning of creation, as if it were in the contractions of labour for childbirth. And it’s not just creation. We who have already experienced the first fruits of the Spirit also inwardly groan as we passionately long to experience our full status as God’s sons and daughters – including our physical bodies being transformed.” (Romans 8:22-3 TPT)
Definition and Biblical Context
Travailing Prayer will usually be for Intercessors as they are generally open to the Lord using them that way, so that they can pull heaven down to earth. But it can also be for anyone who is willing to be used by Holy Spirit to birth something.
There may be a cost involved; perhaps time because travailing may take as little time as a few minutes or it may take days, depending when the burden lifts; perhaps discomfort, as the pain may vary from nothing, to some tiredness, to the pain a woman experiences in childbirth; or perhaps weeping or groaning as these are common manifestations, and emotions may vary from feeling troubled or depressed to distress.
One may also be woken by God in the middle of the night with a burden to pray for someone who will probably be in some sort of danger, or for a national or local issue.
The power of travailing prayer is clearly vital to the bringing of an awakening. There may also be a need for prayers of repentance regarding the area or the nation.
“If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.” (Jeremiah 18:7-10 NIV)
In the book of Daniel, sometimes his praying was identificational repentance on behalf of his people. I am sure that this is a type of prayer that many will do before a revival, in case the Lord is withholding His blessing because of the sin of the people.
I should imagine that the first characteristic of a revival that you would think of is prayer. Most of the accounts of major revivals that I have read, trace their history back to one or more people praying for God to move. Pastors sometimes call prayer meetings for revival, hoping that the gathering of people together to ask the Lord to send revival will bring it about.
Inevitably, what I am about to say will be thought of as controversial by some, but I do not believe that the masses praying will bring an awakening. In a way, this statement is obvious, because there has been much prayer on this subject in England over the last 98 years, and yet there is no awakening!
There are two extreme views on what brings revival. At one end of the spectrum we have Charles Finney, that great American revivalist, who believed that if we did actions a, b, c and d, revival would always come. So, basically, God will just react to what we want. I do not believe this is correct. Many people have tried to follow Finney’s formula, but nobody, as far as I know, has succeeded.
The other extreme view is that it is all to do with the Sovereignty of God; therefore, it does not matter what we do, God will bring revival whenever He wants. I believe this is wrong as well, as plainly Scripture shows that God wants to work with us, and through us, to bring about His plans and purposes – healing, salvation, etc.
So, having disagreed with the two extremes, I certainly fall closer to the Sovereignty of God than I do to Finney’s view. What worked for Finney was either because he was ministering in an atmosphere of revival, or because he was carrying an extraordinary revivalist anointing; often both were present. I believe that God decides when He wants to bring revival, He then tells this to his prophets and intercessors, who in turn begin to declare and pray it in. It is a partnership. Of course, some may not know that they are responding to God’s wishes; they may think that the idea came from them, but that is the way I believe it works.
The Lord told Jeremiah that the people of Israel would be in Babylon for seventy years, but He had a better future for them and He would bring them into that future when they prayed for it. Eventually, Daniel studied the past and in doing so recognised the prophetic word. He was the one who prayed (travailed) into being what God had already planned.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:11-13 NIV)
There is no doubt that the amount of prayer increases during an awakening. The intimacy that people have with God increases, and they respond to Him through prayer.
Prayer being a characteristic of a revival is fairly obvious, but what is more interesting is to look at what happens leading up to revival. There are generally two types of prayer – organised and travailing.
Organised prayer for revival occurs in churches all over the country from time to time. There are even calls for such prayer in stadiums; the belief being that the more we ask or beg the
Lord for revival, the quicker revival will come. As already mentioned, it has not worked and I do not believe it is meant to work like that.
“I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”(Luke 24:49 NIV)
Jesus does not tell the disciples to go to Jerusalem to pray, He just tells them to wait. I do not think that prayer is very effective if it is done out of duty or out of obedience to a leader. I can almost hear the cries of outrage from people disagreeing with this statement! We are called to pray, and we pray about many things, but I believe that the most effective prayers are those that the Lord puts on our hearts.
Effective prayer comes from the presence of God. I believe that Travailing Prayer has a big influence on revival, being the intercessor’s response to God’s decision and message that it is time for revival.
The following are examples of the impact of Travailing Prayer on revivals of the past, that I believe highlight the power and necessity for it.
Great Awakening (1738-?)
The further one goes back in history, the more difficult it is to understand the Church language of that time and equate it to our terminology today. Looking for clear examples of Travailing Prayer in the eighteenth century is not easy as they do not often use this term. In my opinion, when they wrote about ‘wrestling’ or other such words. they were describing travail.
Although I have read a great deal about the Great Awakening I have, as yet, found no record of prayer meetings calling for revival in the late 1730’s. However, Count Zinzendorf began a
24/7 prayer meeting in 1727, in Hernhut, Germany that went on for a hundred years. I suspect that they were travailing and I think it credible that their prayers helped start the Great Awakening.
The huge Awakening that hit our nation occurred three or four years later than the one that began through Jonathan Edwards in the United States. I found this quote by Charles Finney, that shows they were travailing at that time.
“I have never known a person sweat blood; but I have known a person pray till the blood started from his nose. And I have known persons pray till they were all wet with perspiration, in the coldest weather in winter. I have known persons pray for hours, till their strength was all exhausted with the agony of their minds. Such prayers prevailed with God. This agony in prayer was prevalent in Jonathan Edwards’ day, in the revivals which then took place.”3
This, together with the few accounts below convince me that Travailing Prayer was at the heart of the Methodist revivals of that century.
The following is a very interesting account written in 1767. John Valton was one of John Wesley’s early itinerant preachers.
“On examining my heart, I have found in myself three kinds of prayer: first, an impetuous, earnest, and violent desire that others might be blessed ; that is chiefly man’s prayer: secondly, an humble, earnest, pleading prayer, proceeding from a broken heart, bleeding with compassion; there is much of the Spirit of God in this, it is generally much blessed to others: thirdly, the prayer of God, or praying in the Holy Ghost. This consists in short phrases and sentences, chiefly in Scripture language; the soul feasts on the answer while one petition slowly succeeds another.
This is the prayer which God emphatically inspires. It is often not relished by lukewarm professors; but on the purified it leaves behind the mantle of Elijah. Lord, evermore teach me thus to pray!”4
Valton was only twenty-seven years old at the time and it is reasonable to assume that people around him were praying in the same way. I believe his first type of prayer is ‘petition’ prayer, the second ‘travailing’ and the third something else. A dear friend of mine who is an intercessor, told me that she has prayed like this in the past; waiting on the Lord until a Bible verse or something else came to mind, then praying it briefly before waiting on the Lord again, and so on.
John Wesley organised his followers, first into Circuits that could include three or four counties, then into Societies (like churches), then into Classes and Bands. The Class and Band would equate with our home groups today. You had to be invited to join a Class and prove that you were someone who was passionate and chasing after God. There was a lot of prayer going on in these Classes, the aim of which was to go from glory to glory and I believe that most of this prayer was travail. The Classes were the engine rooms of the Societies.
In 1781 John Valton wrote:
“I was at Dawgreen, the southern part of the town of Dewsbury. Being alone in my chamber, I prostrated myself before the Lord, to ask the outpouring of His Spirit on so populous a neighbourhood, while my eyes were suffused with tears. I then came down to engage in family prayer; and the power of God fell upon me, enabling me to pray with much enlargement, as the Spirit gave me utterance. I had a blessed revival before my eyes, and we praised God by way of anticipation; for I was fully assured the Lord was about to work. My petitions were uttered in the assurance of faith; for I knew that God would make bare His holy arm. The family felt the Divine unction; and I continued till I could scarcely rise from my knees. I went upstairs; but could engage in no work, except prayer and praise.”5
This is an excellent example of Travailing Prayer birthing revival as a significant revival began shortly afterwards.
This account of Travailing Prayer from 1757 resulted in a violent man coming to know Jesus. Alexander Mather was another of Wesley’s preachers.
“At Matthew Bagshaw’s I found John Johnson, of York, who said, ‘I am glad you are come; for here is a poor man, who is to die to-morrow, whose behaviour is terrifying: he curses, swears, and threatens death to all that have given evidence against him; the jailer in particular. He will see no clergyman, but says he resolves to be a devil, that he may revenge himself. The minister has given me free leave to visit him. I went this morning; but he said, ‘Give yourself no trouble about me. By this time tomorrow I shall be a devil, and then I will come and tear that villain in pieces.’ We immediately went to prayer, and vehemently wrestled with God on his behalf. After prayer, we went to him, and at first sight observed an entire change in his behaviour. We inquired when this sudden change began, and found it was just while we were at prayer.”
In 1758 a national revival began in Otley, Yorkshire. The following testimony is how it began (it is also included in my booklet on Sanctification). This meeting was a typical Methodist Class meeting and it clearly shows people travailing and that the result was revival.
“On Friday, February 13th, about thirty persons were met together at Otley, about eight o’clock in the evening, in order (as usual) to pray, and sing hymns, and provoke one another to love and good works. After prayer was ended, when they proceeded to speak of the several states of their souls, some, with deep sighs and groans, complained of the burden they felt for the remains of in-dwelling sin; seeing in a clearer light than ever before, the necessity of a deliverance from it.
When they had spent the usual time together, a few went to their own houses; but the rest remained upon their knees, groaning for the fulfilment of the great and precious promises of God. One being desired to pray, he no sooner began to lift up his voice to God, then the Holy Ghost made intercession in all that were present, with groanings that could not be uttered. At length the travail of their souls burst out into loud and ardent cries. They had no doubt of the favour of God, but they could not rest, while there was anything in them contrary to His nature. One cried out, in an exceeding great agony, ‘Lord deliver me from my sinful nature!’ Then a second, a third, and fourth. And while the person who prayed first, was calling upon God in these words, ‘Thou God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, hear us for the sake of thy Son Jesus!’ one was heard to say, ‘Blessed be the Lord God for ever, for He hath cleansed my heart.’Another and another spoke the like experience, and the writer thus concludes: Thus they continued for the space of two hours; some praising and magnifying God, some crying to Him for pardon or purity of heart, with the greatest agony of spirit.”
During this revival Wesley began to recognise the importance of prayer meetings as a means for bringing about revival. In a letter to John Wesley from Alexander Mather, who was pastoring a revival of his own in 1760, he writes:
“As I wrote to you the most minute circumstances of the work, and you were there in the very height of it, you judged it best to place me in the Circuit another year. But I made a false step in the beginning of it. Longing for peace and preferring the judgment of other men to my own, I agreed that my wife should not hold any more prayer-meetings. Immediately the work began to decay, both as to its swiftness and extensiveness. And though I continued to insist as strongly as ever upon the same points, yet there was not the same effect, for want of seconding by prayer- meetings the blow which was given in preaching.”
Around 1770 there is this account by James Rogers, another of Wesley’s itinerant preachers, who had been seeking Sanctification for a considerable time and then someone travailed for him.
“That pious family no sooner learned my errand than they encouraged me to expect the blessing that hour and exhorted me to believe on the Lord Jesus for full salvation. We then fell on our knees and a good woman full of faith and love wrestled and pleaded with the Lord for me. In less than fifteen minutes my burden was removed and I felt an entire change.”9
Robert Lomas, yet another of Wesley’s preachers, wrote in 1793 from Greetland, Halifax. He was conducting a love- feast where he gave testimony to receiving Sanctification. Travailing Prayer then began and revival came.
“In the love-feast I bore my feeble testimony to the truth, and spoke explicitly of my own experience; saying, for some time I have found nothing contrary to the love of God and man, and as far as I know, the Lord has cleansed me from all sin; but of this I want a clearer witness. What was said seemed to have a good effect upon the people in general, theywere evidently stirred up to lay hold upon the Lord. I was desirous to spend a little time in prayer and requested several of the brethren to use their liberty. They did so, pleading with God for themselves and others. I found myself uncommonly affected while one of them was praying for me. With my whole heart, with all the powers of my soul and body, I then cried to the Lord for a general blessing. As I prayed and pleaded, my faith was strengthened, and I said, ‘Oh Lord, if it will not displease thee, we would wrestle with thee, as Jacob did; and with Jacob thou wast not displeased’. Immediately my whole frame felt the power of God, and the whole house seemed filled with his glory. I continued praying, or rather praising God. My soul was lost and swallowed up in him. I had before been blessed in a similar way; but never in that degree.” The people were amazed, some glorified God; meanwhile the gracious influences waxed stronger and stronger, each individual felt to forget everything, save their eternal interests. The world receded from their view, Satan lost his hold, evil agencies found nowhere whereon to fasten; faith being strongly exercised, a wrestling spirit filled every heart, while every power both of body and mind seemed to be engaged. Then the gates of heaven were opened, the glory of the Holy One of Israel filling the very place, and by some now living and by hundreds transplanted to paradise, Greetland Lovefeast will never be forgotten.”10