Prayer that Births an Awakening

William Porter, Beacon House of Prayer

There are many kinds of prayer and many reasons to pray. The privilege of our relationship with God through Jesus gives us access to a great realm of prayer and worship – from the tears of confession to the ecstatic songs of praise, and from the quietness of listening to the fervency of intercession. 

Amidst this rich variety there is the kind of prayer that births something. Or in other words God stirs people to a degree of prayer that partners with heaven to cause new things to come to birth. We may think in the bible of Hannah crying to God literally for a child, or of Elijah kneeling on Mount Carmel praying in the rain, or of the disciples in the upper room before Pentecost, gripped by a promise of the coming of the Spirit.

People are led by God into this kind of prayer for a reason and for a season. The reason is that God is about to do something new; the season is the time just before the new emerges. In evangelical piety, this has been called travailing prayer, I prefer to call it birthing prayer. It is not just about the groans, it is more about what it is producing or preparing for.

We have heard of Christian brothers and sisters having a burden in prayer: something about which they feel strongly or intensely enough to pray in a dedicated way. Travailing or birthing prayer is not really about our burdens but about sharing the burden of the Holy Spirit. The preacher C H Spurgeon is quoted as saying: “Whenever God determines to do a great work, He first sets his people to pray.” This is particularly true of times of revival and spiritual awakening. These are seasons of heightened spiritual activity, where the church is reformed and renewed, where heaven comes close to earth, where people are confronted by their spiritual state, and where many come to a living faith in Jesus. 

We are not normally ready for such times, and so God draws his people into a place of hungering, thirsting, yearning and great openness to the Spirit, to prepare us for what he is about to do. If you search through Christian history books you commonly find a few people or even many people entering into the labour pains of prayer for revival, just before it is about to irrupt in a place or amongst a community.

I have been impressed recently about the story of the early Pentecostal revival in Azusa Street, Los Angeles in 1906. One of the leaders, Frank Bartleman kept a memoir of those heady days. He remarked how a spirit of prayer came upon groups of Christians in the fifteen months before the outbreak of the Spirit. He called it soul travail; there were times when he would groan and roll under the burden of prayer. To quote him: “prayer was not formal in those days. It was God breathed. It came upon us, and overwhelmed us. We didn’t not work it up. We were gripped with real soul travail by the Spirit that could no more be shaken off than could the birth-pangs of a woman in travail, without doing absolute violence to the Spirit of God.” (Frank Bartleman. The Azusa Street Revival: Eyewitness account. Revival School, 2008, p32). 

You could confirm this by other stories, from the deep intercession of the early Moravians on the land of Count Zinzendorf in Germany in 1727, or the great spontaneous prayer gatherings in New York in 1857, or the tide of deep confession and united prayer of the young Korean church in 1907.

What then is birthing prayer like and how can you know if you are caught up in such a spirit of prayer? Let me say what is is not. It is not forced, and you cannot manufacture it. It is not about noise even though you may be deeply moved. It is not a badge of superiority, although not many are called into this. 

In contrast here are some marks of birthing and travailing prayer: you know something is about to happen; you are stirred with expectancy in prayer. You have a greater level of faith, in that you are gripped by a promise God has made for a fresh work of the Spirit. It could be a bible passage brought to vivid life or a prophetic word that is alive. You are empowered in your natural weakness in prayer by the Spirit; you find yourself caught up in a wave of intercession or season of calling upon God in a way that is unusual. You find others in a place of powerful agreement, where intercessors and leaders realise you can combine your faith and desire for God. You persevere until completion; you pray until the breakthrough comes, or until the Spirit assures you that the answer is on its way. 

I would say that birthing and travailing prayer is happening all over Europe right now. Amongst student groups stirred by the recent Asbury awakening; amongst seasoned intercessors, catching a new wave of faith for revival as the church stirs itself to fresh mission; amongst houses of prayer, finding a new sensitivity to the presence of the Spirit in worship and new zeal to prepare the way of the Lord in prayer walking their cities. It is dispersed and unorganised, but it is building. The greater the spiritual awakening on the horizon, the greater the spirit of prayer that will rise amongst God’s people. I feel that spirit of prayer and that burden for revival as I visit cities in Europe and walk with the cross.

And in awakening times, there is a genuine birthing – of a heaven sent move of the Spirit, of souls saved, of fresh leaders being forged, of a renewed church rising up, of a new day of kingdom opportunity. 

May Jesus lead us into receiving the prayer burdens of the Spirit for our world, into a deeper spirit of prayer, and into the kind of prayer that births an awakening across our continent. 

God bless you.