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I didn’t know him personally – he was a friend of some friends – but his personal experiment made news in our circles. We were students at a Bible college, after all. And here he was, consciously deciding not to read his Bible.

It wasn’t the “I’ve-slept-through-my-alarm-the-past-ten-mornings” sort of forgetting that most of us fall into when it comes to our Bible reading routines. He wasn’t putting homework ahead of personal devotions like the rest of us were occasionally frequently doing.

He’d realized his Scripture-reading was happening by rote instead of with desire. He was finding his sense of good-standing before God tied to how long he read his Bible each day. A vague standard of number-of-times-per-week was turning his Bible reading into backbreaking drudgery rather than life-giving freedom.

And so he stopped.

I envied him for his bravery. Letting word get out at a Bible college that you were giving up Bible reading as a sort of reverse spiritual discipline was sure to make more than a few people question your salvation.

But more than that, I envied him because I sensed by own lack of bravery. I could not imagine pulling such a stunt and still finding God’s love at the other end.

My experience in many evangelical Christian circles is that we give lip-service to freedom while yanking leashes attached to choke collars, viciously keeping one another in line. It’s more often our fellow believers’ guilt trips, not God’s kindness, that is leading us to repentance. Our mythological ideal Christian isn’t someone who falls harder and harder every day on God’s extravagant grace, but someone who reads only Christian books, attends church every Sunday, and serves without faltering or question.

The fact that we have an “ideal Christian” at all should probably disturb us more than it does.

It’s not that I don’t see wisdom in practicing spiritual disciplines like reading Scripture, prayer, fellowship, and ministry on a regular basis. But doing them for their own sake is a yoke too heavy to bear. Doing them out of obligation to keep your good standing with God will crush you.

The end of his experiment didn’t quite get storied around like the beginning. There were rumors that the break did wonders for his love of Scripture. That giving himself freedom from the imposed standards of “good Christian” actually made his desire for Word and prayer increase.

I never did find the courage to ask. Maybe because I didn’t want to know that the list of rules I was straining to keep (and teaching to others) was meaningless after all. Maybe because I didn’t want to lose the comfort of standards by which to judge myself and others. Maybe because I decided that finding the immoral woman’s passion required just a bit too much risk in leaving my own goodness behind.

And for a long while afterwards, I tried to keep pace with the jerk of the leash while proclaiming myself free.