Excerpt from Craig Groeschel's The Christian Atheist: When You Believe in God But Live as if He Doesn't Exist (eBook).
At the tender age of twenty-six... several leaders who were overseeing my journey toward [becoming a pastor] were convinced that I was a workaholic and needed help to change. I was convinced they were wrong. This wise and caring panel of ministers asked me to take a week off to contemplate my priorities and consider what changes I could make that would give me the endurance to go the distance. Knowing this was a battle I wouldn't win, I agreed to take some time off, although I honestly never planned to follow through and slow my frenzied pace.
When they inevitably discovered that I didn't take the week off but instead continued working feverishly, they assigned me to mandatory counseling to address my workaholic tendencies. I found myself sitting quietly in a little chair, facing a well-intentioned counselor. He reviewed his notes, mumbled a little to himself, looked up at me, and said, "You really don't think you can change, huh?" ... Convinced that this was just the way I was, I explained [how] I couldn't lessen my drive to work. I'll never forget what happened next. He leaned in, and lovingly, not much above a whisper, said, "So ... what you're telling me is, even our God isn't big enough to help you change?"
He got me.
Identifying the Lie
Many Christian Atheists live year after year under the illusion that we simply can't change. Once we've forgiven ourselves for past mistakes, some surrender to present problems, never even hoping to overcome them. We may openly, even proudly, believe in God, but we honestly don't believe he can change us. And it's not that we've never tried to change. We have — often. Perhaps we prayed and asked God for help, but nothing happened. Or we read a book, listened to a sermon, or accepted advice from a trusted friend, only to end up in the same place we started. Maybe we made a New Year's resolution, joined a support group, even visited a counselor, all hoping to change. But when we didn't succeed, we eventually surrendered our hopes for a different life. Even though I believe in God, I don't really think he can help. After all, this is how he made me. Maybe, like the apostle Paul, this is simply the thorn in my flesh...
Admitting to the Problem
The apostle Paul had some strong words for the Corinthian church, which was struggling with all sorts of sinful behavior. He explained that we battle with different weapons than the world uses: "For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds" (2 Cor. 10:3–4). The Greek word translated as strongholds is ochuroma (pronounced oak-EWROH-muh), which means to fortify, lock up, or imprison. This is what our enemy tries to do to us. He lies to us until we're convinced that we're stuck and can never escape our problems. That's what happened to me and my workaholism. I believed that this was just the way I was made. I'm driven to work hard. People who don't work hard are lazy and don't care as much as I do. I'll never change this about me. My thoughts made me a prisoner. Like many other Christian Atheists, I believed the lie that I couldn't change.
Some can't stop gambling. Others can't stop spending. Many can't stop lusting. Still others can't stop eating. Even technology holds some people hostage... Some are simply bound by a false belief. They think they aren't good with people and never will be. Or they're convinced that they'll always have a negative attitude. Some believe they could never get in good physical shape. Others are convinced they're destined to remain in a meaningless job. They're imprisoned by false thoughts, all along believing they can never escape, never change...
We can always find plenty of excuses why [our addiction] isn't that big of a deal. But if we won't admit our problems, we can't change.
Addictions are idolatry. We're trying to meet some need that only Christ can, looking to anything but him. I was trying to prove my worth in production, rather than finding value in Christ alone. Admitting that took more work (and pain) than I can describe. Too many Christian Atheists won't acknowledge their problem in the first place. I wouldn't for years. We can always find plenty of excuses why it isn't that big of a deal. But if we won't admit our problems, we can't change.
God Can Help You Change
[Jesus said], 'With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.' -Mark 10:27
Admitting our problems is only the first step. After that, we must invite God to work, because he is the one who can change any problem... With people, change may be difficult, even impossible — but not with God. God is bigger than our problems, no matter what they are. If you've believed that you simply can't change, acknowledge that that is a lie. With God, all things are possible.
If you're not dead, you're not done. God still has something important for you to do. These truths alone make you important. You can change. Capture wrong thoughts and replace them with truth. Can the excuses. If you keep making excuses, you're insulting God's power. With God, all things are possible — even the thing that you think isn't.
- Craig Groeschel
Learn more about The Christian Atheist eBook.
(Image and some styling above are web-exclusive features not included in the text of The Christian Atheist. Image attribution: Willow Creek Church Association. This post does not represent the views of Zondervan or any of its representatives. The writer's personal opinions are shared only for information purposes. To receive new Zondervan Blog posts in your reader or email inbox, subscribe to Zondervan Blog.)