I don’t see this as often as I used to, but it still happens. I’m talking about the occasional sighting of a car pulled off the side of the road with its hood up, steam billowing from the engine compartment. Besides the obvious embarrassment associated with such an event, there’s the resulting hassle of getting our car towed to the shop and having the problem repaired.
What causes this unfortunate and always untimely interruption in our busy lives? Basically, the water in the car’s radiator has dropped below a critical level and the engine overheats, boiling the remaining water—and thus the clouds of steam. Sometimes the critical water level is crossed suddenly when a radiator hose springs a big leak. But more often than not, it’s the result of a slow, steady, drip-drip-drip. It’s like the straw that breaks the camel’s back—at some point, a single drip is going to be one drip too many.
Let’s brush up on the mechanics: First, the friction created by an engine’s moving parts creates enormous heat. Therefore, the engine has to be cooled—enter the mix of water and coolant in your car’s radiator. The water flows through the engine and keeps it cool—problem solved. Not quite—flowing through the engine, the water gets so hot that it has to be cooled off, ready to cool down the engine again—enter the radiator where the water is cooled. Water leaves the radiator through one hose, cools the engine, and returns through a second hose to be cooled down by air passing through the radiator while you’re driving (or by your car’s fan if you’re sitting in rush-hour traffic).
And therein lies the cause of most roadside steam-powered attractions: a leaky radiator or radiator hose. If enough water drains out of the system through a slow or sudden leak, eventually there’s not enough water to cool the engine—and the remaining water boils inside the engine and is released as steam through whatever exit point it can find—usually a radiator hose with a weak spot or puncture.
Besides being frustrating, water draining out of the radiator can be very expensive. Running too long on an engine in which the water has drained away will definitely cause the engine to overheat and crash—and possibly burn.
Drains in Everyday Life
Think of all the places in our world where large quantities of water are stored: huge water reservoirs created by giant dams, massive above-ground water tanks in our communities, the water heater in your garage or basement that gives you a hot shower, the water stored in radiators that heat many older homes and buildings—and yes, the water stored in millions of vehicle radiators. Right now, as you read these words, some of those reservoirs of water are leaking or draining. A percentage of them will result in damage of some sort—be it a flooded valley community when an earthen dam holding back a lake gives way or a flooded basement when the water drains out of a hot water heater.
Water belongs in the system, not outside the system. The challenge is to plug the leaks and seal the drains before damage can occur. Water transfer and storage systems losing water through leaks and drains is such a problem that a large industry has grown up around it: automatic leak detectors. Municipalities all across the country are installing electronic leak sensors on aging, underground water pipes where leaks can go undetected for years. Leaking water is lost water. And lost water can lead to serious problems.
Water in the Spiritual Life
If you stop and think about it, there is a perfect analogy in the spiritual life. In one of the most dramatic moments recorded in the life of Christ, He stood up in the midst of the crowds at the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:37-38).
The apostle John adds this explanatory word in the next verse: “But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (verse 39).
We know that Jesus has now been “glorified” through His resurrection, ascension, and seating at the right hand of the Father (John 13:31-32). And shortly after those events, at Pentecost, Peter declared, “Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear” (Acts 2:33)—“this” being the poured-out Spirit of God. Peter went on to tell the crowds that all who believe in Jesus “shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).
Jesus called the Holy Spirit “living water,” and all who believe in Jesus become reservoirs of this “living water”—the Holy Spirit. Just as I said about literal water above (“water belongs in the system”), so the Holy Spirit’s ministry is to be present in His fullness in the life of the believer.
I don’t want to push the metaphor too far—but I think it is safe to say that a Christian can experience the power of the Spirit draining out of his life. And like the vast majority of leaks in literal water systems, leaks in our spiritual reservoirs happen beneath the surface, out of sight, one drip-drip-drip at a time—until we realize we are completely without power or spiritual health.
Plugging the Spiritual Drains
The New Testament speaks clearly of at least two ways Christians can lose spiritual power and resources: grieving the Spirit (Ephesians 4:30) and quenching the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19).
Here are some ways we can see spiritual power drain out of our lives as our choices negate the work of the Spirit in us:
- The drain of negative influence. Inappropriate friendships and relationships can lead us away from God (Deuteronomy 13:6-9), impact our character and behavior (Proverbs 22:24-25), and cause us to become an enemy of God (James 4:4).
- The drain of busyness. Spiritual growth and power take time and effort. Yes, the Holy Spirit does the changing in us, but we make ourselves available to Him through the spiritual disciplines of prayer, Bible study, worship, service, fellowship, solitude, meditation on Scripture, and others. The psalmist wrote, “Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You” (Psalm 119:11). But the Word doesn’t get into our life by osmosis. It gets there when we take time to study it, listen to it preached and taught, and discuss it with others.
- The drain of materialism. Jesus said it best: “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24). In modern language, “mammon” is money—we cannot serve God wholeheartedly if our spiritual power is being drained away in the pursuit of materialism.
- The drain of envy or jealousy. There is a temptation to envy those who do wrong (Psalm 73; Proverbs 3:31) and to compare ourselves with them (2 Corinthians 10:2). But Proverbs 14:30 says that “envy is rottenness to the bones.” Does that sound like the kind of life where spiritual power is being stored up or being drained away? Obviously, the latter.
There are other spiritual drains, of course—but these four represent the tiny leaks that, over time, can allow our spiritual power to dissipate and vanish. And when that happens, we eventually end up like a car pulled to the side of the road with a cloud of steam billowing from beneath the raised hood.
The insidious thing about these leaks is that they seem negligible and insignificant. And in the early stages of a drain’s activity, they are. A single envious thought or materialistic impulse is not going to sideline a Christian. But if those go unconfessed, and are allowed to accumulate drip-by-drip-by-drip, a tipping point will be reached.
First, we must be aware of the reality of spiritual drains. Then we must do whatever is necessary to plug them! Only then will our living water remain within where it belongs.