Prayer travail is prayer that proceeds out of a burdened soul and is motivated by great desire and urgency. It is prayer that pleads with God, wrestles with God, takes hold of Him and won’t let go until He answers. This wrestling in prayer Bounds says,
…is not an impulse of energy, not a mere earnestness of soul; it is an inwrought force, a faculty implanted and aroused by the Holy Spirit. Virtually, it is the intercession of the Spirit of God; it is, moreover, ‘the effectual, fervent prayer, which availeth much.’ The Divine Spirit informing every element within us, with the energy of His own striving, is the essence of the importunity which urges our praying at the mercy-seat, to continue until the fire falls and the blessing descends.
Wesley Duewel says, “You do not wrestle apart from the Holy Spirit. Only He can give you the holy boldness that is at the same time submissive to God yet bold to insist on God’s promise, bold in the very face of God.”
We see this boldness in Jacob’s prayer, when he, fearing his brother Esau, claimed God’s promise of prosperity. He prayed, “Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, lest he come and attack me and the mother with the children. For You said, ‘I will surely treat you well, and make your descendants as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude’” (Gen. 32: 11-12). That night he wrestled with God and would not let go of Him until He blessed him (Gen. 32: 24-29).
We also see this holy boldness in the prayer of Abraham (Gen. 18: 23-32), in which he pleaded with God again and again to spar the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. He no doubt carried the burden of the Holy Spirit in his soul; for he pleaded not for any selfish reason, but was concerned for what was right and just.
This post is an excerpt from my book Principles of Prayer.