Travailing prayer is prayer which is really intended to produce new results, birth new things. Travail means “hard word”, or “to undergo the labour of childbirth”. Travailing prayer is a birthing prayer. It brings into existence that which was not there before, that which has not existed before.
There is a wonderful example of travailing prayer in the Bible and it can be found in the First Book of Samuel, chapter 1, verses 10-18. It reads:
“And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed to Jehovah, and wept sorely. And she vowed a vow and said, O, Lord of Hosts, if You will indeed look upon the affliction of Your handmaid and remember me, and not forget Your handmaid, but will give to Your handmaid a man-child, then I will give him to Jehovah all the days of his life, and there shall no razor come upon his head.
And it happened as she continued praying before Jehovah, Eli noticed her mouth. Now Hannah spoke in her heart, only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard. And Eli thought she had become drunk. And Eli said to her, How long will you be drunken? Put away your wine from you!
And Hannah answered, No, my lord, I am a woman of a sorrowful spirit. I have neither drunk wine nor strong drink, but have poured out my soul before Jehovah. Do not count your handmaid for a daughter of wickedness, for out of the abundance of my meditation and grief I have spoken until now.
And Eli answered and said, Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant to you your petition that you have asked of Him.
And she said, Let your handmaid find grace in your sight. So the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad.”
Hannah was the barren and unable to produce a child for her husband. Empathetic word or support from her husband could not help her; she was inconsolable, for “she was in bitterness of soul”, at being unable fulfill the destiny which she knew was hers. She knew in her soul, she needed to be a mother of a male son. But this was not a slight hurt that she felt, but a deep hurt which reached down and into her very soul. Though her husband doted over her, he could not reach down to the depths of her hurt. He could not ease her pain. Hannah and her husband Elkanah had been to the temple yearly for a long, long time, to present sacrifices to Jehovah, but till this time, their prayers had not been answered and no child had been born to them.
The following describes her prayer pattern, a pattern which we can still use today.
- Hannah prayed and cried out to the Lord: “And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed to Jehovah.” Hannah was distraught with emotion as she prayed and cried out. This was a very emotional and passionate prayer from her very heart and soul.
- Hanna wept: “and wept sorely” (she wept bitterly). She did not disguise the pain and anguish she was feeling. Though she may not have been able to voice out exactly how she felt, her passionate weeping exposed it.
- Hannah lifted her problem, her affliction, to the Lord: “And she vowed a vow and said, O, Lord of Hosts. ” Hannah had taken her problem to the Lord before. She knew that He was the only answer, the only healer, the only provider who could overcome her affliction.
- Hannah cried out to the Lord: “remember me, and not forget Your handmaid”. She asked the Lord to remember why she was born, to remember her destiny in Him which was still unfulfilled.
- Hannah pleaded her case: “will give to Your handmaid a man-child, then I will give him to Jehovah all the days of his life, and there shall no razor come upon his head.” Hannah offered her first-born, her “first-fruits,” to serve God all his life.
- Hannah got prayer support at the highest available level: “Eli noticed her” Hannah had spoken to the High Priest Eli and told her of her problem. In this she also expressed her emotion in an honest and truthful and heartfelt way. She held nothing back.
- Hannah asked for the Lord’s favour: “Let your handmaid find grace in your sight.” We do not come before the living God with pride in our heart and expect our prayers and petitions to be answered. We come with a humble spirit and pray for the grace of the Lord, for we are sinful and unworthy people.
- Hannah persisted in her petition to victory: v7 says “so it went on year by year. As often as she went up to the house of the Lord.” This was not the first time Hannah had been before the Lord in travailing prayer. It happened each year she, her husband and his other wife, went to the temple.
And so it was that on this occasion as “Eli answered and said, Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant to you your petition that you have asked of Him” Hannah knew something had changed. On this occasion, she went away and ate and she was no longer sad. This time, she knew the Lord had answered her prayer, her petition, and that she would certainly conceive and produce a male son.
In due course she did indeed produce a male son and she fulfilled her side of her vow by dedicating him to the Lord to be a priest. His name was Samuel. The prayer Hannah prayed here and the granting of her petition changed the course of Israel’s development for God.
Travailing prayer “births”; and not necessarily children. It can produce and release into existence new ways of doing things, new opportunities, new visions, new directions which the Lord wishes us to follow. Following through as Hannah did in her travail, we can be sure changes will occur.
Amen and Amen.