Faulty Connections

Recently I shared a bit about my experience in replacing the alternator in my wife’s vehicle. While I believe my initial post got across the idea that I am a far better English teacher than mechanic, I didn’t include one slightly embarrassing part of the endeavor.

After completing the installation, including attaching the two electrical connections, I re-charged the battery and took the newly powered vehicle for a test drive. All went well as I drove around the neighborhood. I pulled back into my driveway, switched off the ignition, and then started it up again. Still no problem. With my triumph nearly confirmed, I asked Penny to take a ride with me. We started up the vehicle again, although I noticed a bit of sluggishness this time. Pulling out of the driveway and putting the beast into drive, I saw matters go wonky. The gas and temp gauges started to rock as lights dimmed. After pulling back into the driveway, I grumbled. Apparently the alternator wasn’t the problem after all.

As I reflected on my wasted afternoon and the money I’d dropped on the new alternator, it occurred to me that the car was behaving in exactly the way it had before and that we had previously done the test to assign the blame to the alternator.

“Wait . . . ,” I said, startling my dog. “What if I didn’t get those wires connected properly.” One wire screwed on securely, but the other was a plastic plug with several smaller wires trailing from it. That plug had been a chore to disconnect. Walking out to the car, I raised the hood and reached down to the suspected culprit. When I pulled it to the right, it slid out easily. Pushing it back in, with some force, I felt it click into place. There was my problem.

Now, several weeks later, the car is operating perfectly. Like I said, I’m a better English teacher.

Before I made that connection, the new alternator had been sitting in the engine compartment, spinning under the power of the serpentine belt, and generating electricity. It was doing its job, but my failure to connect it to the devices that wanted to use that electricity made it useless.

In Philippians 4:13, Paul offers one of his best quotable nuggets: “I am able to do all things through him who strengthens me. ” How does God strengthen me? He strengthens me through the Holy Spirit. In fact, in Acts 1:8 we learn that the Holy Spirit will give us power–electricity, if you will allow me some latitude.

As a believer, I have the Holy Spirit and its power within me, but sometimes I don’t have the wires connected properly to make use of that power. Sometimes, the power just goes wasted within me.

Fixing that bad connection to tap the new alternator’s power was pretty simple. It’s slightly harder to restore my connection to the Holy Spirit when I’ve allowed it to shake loose. However, unlike in my driveway mechanic work, I have the master mechanic ready to assist me in making good that connection.

Many Problems; One Solution

Recently, I took a rather frenzied call from my wife as she drove home from downtown Kansas City. My memory of it is as an echo of the lead-in to the old Six Million Dollar Man TV show with the aircraft crashing to earth: “I can’t hold altitude. She’s breaking up. She’s breaking up.”

In reality, Penny just informed me that everything in her car was acting strangely. Needles were rocking, lights were flashing, and the navigation screen was blanked out. “Should I pull over?” She asked.

I determined that if the engine kept running she should just drive on toward home. She made it home and left the engine running to allow me to experience the show. The air conditioner cut in and out. The gas and temperature gauges were going crazy. In short, nothing seemed to be working properly. And then the engine sputtered and died.

My first thought was that some hyper-expensive computer unit, something more costly than the car, had died. Such a problem would have fouled up our summer budget. But then I wondered about the alternator.

What made me blame the alternator? I don’t know, but, after charging the battery, I checked. (Start the car. When running, remove the negative cable from the battery. If it dies, the alternator is no good.) Sure enough, I had a bad alternator.

As I replaced that unit, I had time to think. Since I’m a rather slow and inexperienced mechanic, I had a great deal of time. What symptoms did the car show? It showed many. In the end, everything that required electricity was failing or acting strangely. It seemed that the vehicle had many problems. Yet in the end, there was only one.

What does an alternator do in a car? Basically, it’s a little electric generator. A tiny fraction of the engine’s energy drives a belt that turns a wheel that creates juice. The resulting current sparks the spark plugs, powers the air conditioning fan, keeps the radio playing, and does everything else that involves electricity–which is basically everything.

When I look at the problems in my life or the lives of people around me, many of them can be traced back to the alternator. When we do not receive sufficient current from the source of power–God–then we’re going to experience a variety of miscues and failures.

Can’t stop smoking, eating, watching porn, or drinking? Sounds like a power problem.  Can’t maintain relationships, jobs, or other responsibilities? It’s the alternator. Can’t get excited about a life of worship or genuinely care about the people around you? Again, it’s that power source.

Just as not all problems with a car can be traced to the alternator, not all those in life can be blamed on the connection to God’s power. Still, many problems that seem to have various sources are really focused on that one connection.