(Editor’s Note: Following our weekend seminar, led by Michael Sullivant, on ‘Stirring Up The Prophetic’, a number of Hope Chapel folk were concerned with a practice in which Michael had participants stretch out their arms to determine if one arm was shorter than the other and then ask God for a ‘Divine Alignment’, a healing touch. Following the weekend, along with others, I told Michael that I was uncomfortable with this practice and would discourage its use at Hope Chapel. He offered to write a response to my objections outlining his experience and thinking. This blog post should be read alongside the previous post “A Very Slippery Slope.” While I respect Michael, I want to discourage this technique at Hope Chapel. –Geno)
My Experience and Perspective
on Praying for God to Align People’s Spinal Columns:
A Controversial Matter
by Michael Sullivant
In the summer of 1974, I attended a conference in western Michigan that featured charismatic teachers including the late Derek Prince. I had appreciated Derek’s Foundation Series books on the fundamental doctrines of our faith and had been inspired by his clear and straightforward exposition of the Bible. I was attracted to see this minister in person and signed up to attend. At this conference I witnessed, for the first time, what appeared to be the lengthening of legs…when prayer was offered by Dr. Prince in the name of Jesus Christ…to people whom he sat in chairs on the stage. Some of these people also seemed to go through some, almost, involuntary physical “exercises” as the Holy Spirit, according to Mr. Prince, moved upon their bodies to bring new freedom of movement and release from pain to them.
I was stirred by this kind of immediate answer to prayer and began that Fall to offer similar prayers to fellow students at Miami of Ohio from time to time. I witnessed noticeable movements in these people’s legs virtually every time such prayers were offered. At the time, I thought that this kind of event was a “creative miracle” because I thought that people’s legs were somehow literally shorter than their opposite leg. What I discovered, however, was that some people who had their leg “grow” previously had the same need for “lengthening” some time later. As an extremely conscientious and logical person, this was very confusing to me and caused me to doubt the genuine nature of the “miracle” that we thought had taken place before. As a result, I stopped, for the most part, praying in this fashion for folks. This saddens me now as I reflect upon this hesitation and the wound to my spirit and faith that I experienced.
In 1985, Terri and I moved our family to the Detroit area. We had recently been affected by the ministry of John Wimber and we began to experience a sudden flow of healing ministry through our prayers on the heels of attending his conference in Little Rock AR in 1984. We saw a few remarkable miracles that actually raised some people from their death beds…according to the medical doctors who were caring for them at the time. When we joined the staff of Rochester Covenant Church in Rochester MI (which actually had a long history of involvement with Derek Prince and some of his comrades in ministry) I began again to pray for “legs to grow” and again saw the kind of movement in legs that we had witnessed before. There were also some other healings that occurred in our church body through our prayers that would often begin with measuring people’s legs while they sat in a chair. We would regularly witness the Holy Spirit coming on people in an evident way when we would pray in this manner. I again became more confident that something genuinely divine was happening to people when we would pray in this fashion.
After moving to Kansas City in 1987, I would pray for folks in this manner from time to time. I met Lee and Doris Harms early on and they also had a long history of praying for people’s “legs to grow”. They had originally been equipped and inspired by the “Happy Hunters”—an older couple who circulated in the charismatic conference circles in the 70’s. The Harms’ were and are very humble and unassuming folks, but they have seen many miraculous healings and deliverances take place in the name of Jesus through their prayers for many years. They are heroes of Christ in my opinion.
I personally had always had a strong back and never had problems with pain. However, I clearly remember one time that I had somehow injured my back and I asked Lee to pray for me. This was the very first time I experienced what I had prayed for others to experience so many times before. A distinct power far beyond my own immediately came upon me and I felt my left leg lengthen and my back pain leave. This happened after a couple of weeks of real discomfort. (People who have never had back pain do not typically understand how debilitating and/or distracting it can be.) The pain did not return.
Yet, I still did not personally pray regularly for people in this way. I had gotten feedback from folks I loved and respected that sincerely believed that this kind of prayer had been abused by “charlatans” that circulated in the Pentecostal and Charismatic groups through the years. I had never seen this kind of prayer abused, so this complaint always seemed strange to me…though I do believe my friends’ reports. I have never wanted to be associated with anything close to charlatan-ism and so I still hesitated to pray intentionally and regularly for people’s “legs to grow”.
As I have gotten older, it has somehow gradually dawned on me that this kind of answered prayer is not a creative miracle after all. People’s legs are not literally longer or shorter then the other and they do not literally “grow”. Rather, it seems that their back muscles contract (maybe their spine is also out of whack for some reason) and tend to pull one leg up shorter than another…creating misalignment…and a vicious cycle of progressive discomfort and pain often ensues. This viewpoint changed everything for me in regards to this form of prayer. I stopped worrying about whether the prayer was going to bring about a “permanent fix” to their problem and simply accepted it for what it was in the moment…a distinct touch from the Spirit of God that brings, at least, some temporary realignment within their spinal column, the relaxing of some muscles and, sometimes, other manifestations of healing in peoples’ bodies. It is not an “extraordinary miracle”, like those referred to in Acts 19, but it is a genuine and gentle supernatural touch from God to a person’s body…and sometimes their soul too! I have also continued to see some more evident healings take place in bodies that begins with this kind of childlike prayer for limbs to align.
In 2010 I injured my back at an airport when I just reached out to pick up my suitcase off of the conveyer belt. I was in a lot of discomfort from this for several weeks. One evening, I decided to measure my arms to see if they were in alignment. So many people I had prayed for had gotten relief from pain, maybe I could pray this way for myself too. (I had remembered one incident of a man whose arm had “grown out” a couple of inches when we prayed for him many years before.) Strangely, I had never deliberately done that again, but had always focused on praying for legs to align. As I sat in my bed, I extended my arms as far as I was able, brought my palms together and sure enough…my left arm was about a half inch “shorter” than my right. It was a fateful moment as I look back upon it now in the summer of 2011!
I prayed for myself and instantly that same familiar power “beyond me” came distinctly upon my body and I felt my left arm extending to match my right arm. (I have often noticed when people get an adjustment like this, the shorter limb will go out beyond the other and then pull back a bit to match it…it seems weird, but it appears that the muscles will sometimes relax more than needed at first and then normalize.) Beyond this, the pain in my back that had endured for a few weeks went away immediately! I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I confess that I was.
I also discovered that the same pain returned not long after this experience. But instead of doubting what had happened previously, I simply measured my arms again and prayed and had the same result…instantly. Over the course of two months or so, I had this same sequence of events take place. Every time that I needed a touch, it immediately came when I measured my arms and prayed. Some people have questioned this method of “measuring”, but I can tell you that I have been very “clinical” about this. If your arms are misaligned, you can really tell and there is nothing you can do to make them line up on your own without some kind of strange and forced gyration. If they are not misaligned, it is also easy to see. In my experience, most people are not misaligned…their fingertips line up properly every time. (Maybe that’s the greater “miracle”. We are fearfully and wonderfully made!)
The “most clinical” I’ve become with this (and my favorite way to pray for others) is to inch my way up to a wall while stretching my arms out as far as I can. Then, if I’m misaligned, the fingers on my right arm invariably will touch the wall before the fingers on my left will be able to reach that far. (Usually it’s been about that same half inch.) Then, as I pray (and this has happened to me dozens of times now) I will feel the Spirit’s power come all over me, course though my entire being and my left arm will extend to touch the wall without any effort on my part. If I have pain…and this is normally the case…it will instantly leave. It’s still thrilling to me every time I experience it! In the course of those months, I was getting prepared to pray more assertively for many others in the same way.
In a matter of weeks after this, I was ministering to two different ministry training schools. One is in Pasadena CA and the other is in N Kansas City. I decided to take this prayer for alignment for arms (and legs) to the “laboratory”. It’s amazing to me how many people are “misaligned” in their arms and legs. Those who are properly aligned, can readily see that they are fine right away. Likewise, those who are not can also see that they are not aligned. I made sure that these students (It’s not uncommon for over half of the people in a crowd need an adjustment!) checked and triple-checked to see if they could make their arms align by stretching them out in front of them as far as they can and then bring their palms together and then bend their elbows and look to see if their fingertips are aligned or not. Once they “proved” to themselves that they were misaligned (and that they could not “heal themselves”!), I prayed for them in the name of Jesus. Each one of them, one by one, were instantly adjusted. Many of them experienced a strong sense of the presence of God as well…at least for a few moments, if not longer. (An equal number of people do not seem to have an awareness of God’s special presence…but still, they receive an adjustment.) I have yet to see an adjustment fail to occur since I have been intentionally praying for folks this way.
One Sunday morning in early 2011, while I was ministering at the Rock KC urban church, I decided to experiment and see if the Lord would answer this kind of prayer en masse. It seemed that he was giving me faith for such a step. After preaching a simple gospel message, I had everyone measure their arms. About 20 people of the 70 or so were misaligned. One lady had about a 2 inch variation. I first prayed for her myself and her arm instantly extended in the sight of all nearby. Then I had people come around each person who needed an alignment in order to be a witness. Then, for the very first time, I prayed a prayer for everyone in the room who was in need to experience an immediate touch from God. Suddenly, each person who needed an adjustment had a visible alignment of their arms. Everyone in the congregation was very excited about this visible demonstration of the kingdom of God in Christ.
Since that time, I have prayed for people in a handful of entire congregations (large and small) en masse in a similar fashion. First I have everyone measure their arms. Then I invite people who are apparently misaligned to remain standing and/or come to the front so people can watch and witness what happens next. Then I have them measure themselves again and again to prove to themselves that they are indeed misaligned. Then I pray a simple prayer in the name of Jesus Christ. After a few moments, I ask people to measure themselves again and to sit down if they have received an adjustment. In every case every person has taken their seat with just a very few exceptions. I have then walked up to those people who have not experienced an adjustment and prayed for them personally. Each one of them has then immediately been adjusted as I have come into proximity to them.
Because of my own experience with this kind of answered prayer on a number of occasions and because of my vantage point of praying now for hundreds of people like this, I am very confident in the validity of this phenomenon. I also know that most people who have experienced it also are blessed by this kind of a touch. Some do not seem to quite grasp if this has actually happened to them since they did not experience an awareness of a special presence of God in the moment. I’m sure it has been easy for them to wonder if it really was needed and if it really happened.
I do understand how some people might question if this kind of ministry is genuine. It seems that God does not typically answer most of our prayers so immediately and “on cue”. Plus, some of the greatest and more critical needs for the physical healing of our beloved ones seem to remain unchanged and unresolved…even in these very same situations I have been describing and witnessing to. I confess that I share the burden.
All I can say is that I feel an obligation to offer this kind of prayer to people as God allows me to stand before them. I believe that he has told me that if I am faithful in this “little thing” that he will grant me (and us) more for the sake of Christ and others. At this point, I am so convinced of the validity of the genuineness of this grace that I would be in disobedience to not regularly offer such prayers on behalf of God’s people.
If there is a stigma associated with promoting this form of prayer, at this point, I must say that I will gladly bear it. Maybe there is a better way for me to model the genuineness of this touch from our Father…I am open to suggestions and welcome the scrutiny of both spiritual leaders and medical professionals. I welcome honest dialogue with anyone who may question what I have been written. May God smile on us all and grant us greater works to glorify his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.