Travail is often used in the Bible to refer to the toil and pain a woman experiences in giving birth (e.g., Genesis 38:27; Psalm 48:6; Jeremiah 22:23; John 16:21; 1 Thessalonians 5:3). Some translations use words such as toil, labor, anguish, or labor pains rather than travail.
Beyond its physical meaning, travail can also have psychological implications, as in “the travail of the soul.” Isaiah 53:11 uses the word travail in reference to the agony of soul the Messiah would suffer when He bore the sins of the world. Jesus’ travail is evident in the Garden of Gethsemane, just before His arrest: “Being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44).
Paul expressed spiritual and emotional travail when he wrote in Galatians, “My children, of whom I travail again until that Christ shall have been formed in you, I was wishing indeed to be present with you presently and to change my tone, because I am perplexed as to you” (Galatians 4:19–20, BLB). Paul also spoke of his “labor and travail” in describing the hard work he did to pay his own expenses and not be a financial burden on anyone (2 Thessalonians 3:8).
When we pray fervently for something or someone, we are “travailing” in prayer (James 5:16). It can be agonizing work to intercede for those in crisis, pray for the lost, or seek direction on critical decisions. Sometimes it is said that travailing prayer is as if you can actually feel the literal feelings of the heart of God so strongly that it overwhelms you. It feels as if you are overcome with the emotion of the heart of God for something.
Travailing prayer is usually from a place of absolute desperation for a person or situation. God honors those who travail in a desperate place in prayer, as evidenced by His response to Daniel’s three weeks of seeking His answers (Daniel 10:1–14). Daniel entered a place of fasting and prayer with a desperate heart for an answer. I tend to think that Daniel didn’t go into his 21 day fast thinking, I will fast 21 days. I think he wasn’t going to stop until he got the breakthrough with God. His soul and spirit man was in agony and a place of desperation for a breakthough with God. God responds to that kind of prayer and desperation.
Even creation travails and cries out to God for change and His coming deliverance!: “We know that the whole creation groans and travails in pain together until now” (Romans 8:22). But Jesus left us with this encouragement in John 16:33: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Know that on the other side of travail is breakthrough! Birthing only lasts for a short season, but the benefits are beautiful, full of Glory and freedom!
You can be assured that when you pray from a place of desperation in your heart… the Lord will answer.