Have you ever looked into the face of a man and seen the smile of Christ? Have you ever gotten close enough to a man’s heart that burns for Christ and had the fires of devotion for Christ kindled in your own heart? I have. The man’s name is Ray Ortlund Sr. (The picture of Ray and I on the left was taken in 2004.)
How I wish I could hold his hands and pray with him one more time – Ray Ortlund Sr. died a few days ago at the age of 84 on July 22, 2007.
I hope that you have an up close relationship with a man or woman like Ray Ortlund Sr.. If you don’t have a mentor or a friend to help you go deeper and farther with Christ then I urge you to pray earnestly and look continually for a Christ-follower who stirs your soul for Jesus as Ray did – and continues to do even after his death – for me.
“Be All and Only For Jesus!”
Allow me to introduce you to Ray Ortlund, Sr. and how he encouraged me to, “Be all and only for Jesus!” Ray will always be a spiritual father to me because he ignited in me a passion to follow Christ and lead others to be his disciple. I pray that Ray’s life will warm your heart into a fire of devotion to Christ as it has mine…
Ray told me, “When I die I want people to look at my life and say, ‘Look what God did! That had to be God. Ray couldn’t have done that!’” Indeed, Ray’s life was a miracle. He said it started with a simple, earnest prayer:
I read a sentence from Thomas Kelly [in A Testament of Devotion] that set my heart on fire. He prayed, ‘Lord, make my life a miracle.’ Oh, God! That’s it! You’re the original Miracle, and I live in You. Why shouldn’t my life be a miracle? Why shouldn’t I be able to show others how to be miracles? (Lord, Make my Life a Miracle by Ray Ortlund Sr.).
Discipleship to Jesus is “Life on Life”
Indeed, God used Ray to do many “big” things for the kingdom of heaven. Ray pastored four churches, including 20 years at Lake Avenue Congregational Church in Pasadena, CA. He and his wife Anne started “Renewal Ministries” to encourage pastors and leaders. For 17 years he was the pastor of the popular national radio broadcast, “Haven of Rest.” He went on mission trips to every continent in the world, once speaking in front of 100,000 people in a revival meeting in India. He and Anne wrote best-selling books on the Christian life.
But time and again Ray said to me that his most important work was the “little” work of quietly meeting face-to-face with a few other disciples and leading them to “Follow hard after God!”
I was one of those men – one of the hundreds of pastors and leaders that he personally discipled in small groups that he led each year for over 40 years. With four other men I met with Ray semi-weekly for one year. Each meeting he’d say to us something like, “Let’s just open the Bible and open our hearts to let God speak into our lives today.” Together we worshiped the greatness of God. Together we listened to what God wanted to say to us that day. Together – “life on life,” as Ray liked to say – we shared our hearts and we prayed for one another. Then we hung out at breakfast.
After completing Ray’s group I was blessed to meet with him over monthly lunch meetings the last four years, share a private retreat with him, and have him mentor my son David as part of David’s “Rite of Passage” process. In all my interactions with Ray I saw that he lived with a singular, whole-hearted passion for Christ. “I want everything I do to touch Jesus in some way – or else why do it?” he said to me.
“I want to leave deep grooves of the Spirit in your life Bill,” Ray told me. And when he saw that God was indeed using him to make an eternal imprint in my soul he said, “Thank you Bill for giving me a piece of you!” Ray did for me what Paul did for Timothy: he discipled me and encouraged me to disciple other leaders as he had done for me. With all my heart I want to “be strong in grace of God that is in Christ Jesus” like Ray was and the things that he taught me I want to “entrust to reliable [people] who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:1-2).
From Ray Ortlund Sr. I learned to live with what he called “sanctified dissatisfaction” – always longing for more of God then I’d yet experienced. Ray was yearning to know and love Jesus better until his last breath! Like David, his heart beat with holy desire for God. And until the day he died he acted on his intentions by implementing spiritual disciplines to help him grow in Christlikeness. I visited him recently when his health was failing and he was reading a new devotional book, which was a collection of writings from great saints of the past. He was eager to share a reading with me and for us to pray on it!
Seek God in All that You Do
Ray was always training with Jesus to grow in his relationship with God and the rhythm of his life reflected that. Every year, day-by-day, he read the Bible cover-to-cover and he often shared with me what God was saying to him from the Word. Every quarter he and Anne would go on a spiritual retreat together, to be refreshed by God as they prayed in solitude and in conversation with one another. Every month he met with fellow ministers for prayer. Every week he sat down with a group of young men and learned from Jesus with them and through them. Every day he prayed for God to guide his steps and his conversations; he listened to God and followed him. Every moment he sought to magnify and enjoy the Lord as he “practiced the presence of God.”
Devotional reading, studying and meditating on God’s Word, getting away with Jesus on a silent retreat, spiritual friendship, discipling others, listening prayer, worship, practicing the presence of God – these disciplines that were essential to Ray’s life have become core spiritual practices in my own life with God.
Go Ahead: Be a Fool for Jesus!
I also learned from Ray to be a fool for Jesus. He encouraged me to let my devotion to Jesus spill out, not to be afraid to let others see my heart for my Lord. He told me, “Bill, you have the fire of God in your belly! You’re so intentional for Christ. Share your heart and your passion for God with others. Open up your soul and let others see how much you love Jesus.”
I eagerly desire to be salty for the Lord Jesus Christ like Ray was. O that my presence and words would make people thirsty for more of Jesus! He is the source of Living Water.
Humbly Wait on God
My mentor challenged me to wait for and follow God’s leading. Being a Type A personality this has been a hard lesson for me, but I’ve made gradual progress. A number of times I talked with Ray about my struggles to discern God’s will. He always listened to me so patiently and compassionately. One time he counseled me, “Wait on the Lord. Get on your face before him – literally face down to the ground in prayer. What better thing can we do with our time?”
Again and again he urged me to leave my request for guidance in God’s hands while I carried on in my life with him – “Walk-it-out with Jesus,” he’d say. “God will work out his calling for you.”
Once when I was still restless after our conversation he prayed for me, “Lord, we don’t know how to run our lives. We’re just glad we’ve figured that out and know to turn to you!” Notice the “we.” Ray put himself in that prayer, admitting that like me he also had difficulty waiting on God. Ray always did that kind of thing. He was humble and gracious always. He never talked down to me or like he needed to set me straight. He identified closely with me and was quick to admit that he too had much to learn, much more growing to do.
Smile! Better Yet, Let out a Belly Laugh!
At the top of this tribute I said that in Ray Ortlund Sr. I saw the smile of Christ. Well, the last thing I’d like to share with you about Ray is that he put the smile of God on my face!
The joy of the Lord was Ray’s strength and he wanted it to be mine too (Nehemiah 8:10). So he was always reminding me of how good God had been to me, affirming how he saw God in me, and encouraging me to enjoy the Lord, my family, and the ministry opportunities God had given me. He often said to me, “Laughter is holy!” and so he loved to pray for me that God would give me more “belly laughs!”
I’ll never forget the benediction he gave me one time: “May God bless your praying life, your laughing life, and your sex life with your wife!”
Thank you, my friend reading this now, for helping me to re-visit the field of Ray Ortlund Sr.’s ministry in my life so that I can glean more fruit. Is there a spiritual harvest growing in your soul? Has something about Ray’s way with Jesus opened up your eyes to what’s possible and stirred your heart to grow in your relationship with Christ?
Pray to be Passionate for Christ
Wouldn’t you like to join me and live passionately for Jesus like Ray Ortlund Sr. did? What better thing could we do with our lives?
Oh Father, let it be! May Ray Ortlund Sr.’s devotion to Jesus live on in us! We want to follow hard after Christ as Ray did and to pass this way of life onto others who will encourage still others to follow Christ as his disciples. Yes, Lord, set our hearts on fire for you, that we would strive with all our prayers and all our might in all we do to “Be all and only for Jesus!” Amen.
Taking the Baton
Ray and Anne Ortlund passed on to us the baton of ministering God’s renewal to pastors and leaders. We do that through offering counseling, spiritual direction/mentoring, soul care groups, retreats, and this website. And we pass the baton on to other ministry leaders, training them to be Soul Shepherds for Jesus too.