Gasping for Air with Ray Ortlund Sr.

Much of who I am comes from my spiritual mentors. The same is true for you. The men or women who you have looked to as Christ’s Ambassadors are used by God to shape you and your ministry to others (2 Corinthians 5:20). Nurturing those relationships and memories is vital.

Ray Ortlund Sr. was a Spiritual Father to Me

Recently Kristi and I had lunch with Anne Ortlund, wife of Ray Ortlund Sr., who went to be with Jesus in glory on July 22, 2007. Ray was a wonderful spiritual father and soul guide to me. He discipled me to Jesus and God used him to raise up Kristi and to start the ministry of Soul Shepherding, which in many ways continues Ray and Anne’s ministry of bringing renewal to pastors and their wives.

I went through Ray’s year-long discipleship program with a small group of pastors and then I met with him for spiritual mentoring once or twice per month for a number of years. Also Kristi I experienced a private two-day “Renewal Days” retreat with Ray and Anne.

I especially remember Ray looking me in the eyes as we were talking over lunch one day: “Bill, be like Jim Elliot. Be all and only for Jesus! Be on fire and let your life flame out for his kingdom!”

Be All and Only for Jesus!

“Be all and only for Jesus!” That’s how Ray Ortlund Sr. lived and it’s how he died. Ray died with his family around him. They shared their hearts, sang hymns, and prayed. He died in the joy of the Lord.

“Spiritually, Ray was strong to the end,” his wife Anne told Kristi and I. “He had many struggles lasting ten to fifteen minutes when he was gasping desperately for air, and when they subsided he would often say, ‘This is God’s gift to me!’ — Ray so totally trusted the Lord.”

I keep thinking about Ray gasping for air. Even in those frightening, painful moments in which he couldn’t breathe, he relied on Jesus and rejoiced in him. Ray died of a degenerative lung disease so increasingly he experienced this inability to breathe in the last months of his life. I was with him when he was on an oxygen machine. Even then he was learning new things from the Lord in his devotional reading that he shared with me. Even then he gave me spiritual direction, discipling me to Jesus.

It’s easy to forget that spiritually we’re all gasping for air continually, desperate for the spiritual oxygen that only comes as we trust in the Lord Jesus who breathes his Spirit into us (John 20:22). Ray lived to breathe with the Spirit of Christ. He taught countless other pastors like me to do the same — even to his last breath on earth and his first breathe in glory!

Take a moment now to thank God for someone who has encouraged you to “Be all and only for Jesus.” It’s the breath of life for your soul! And it’s the Life that’s meant to be shared with others.


Ray Ortlund, Sr. inspired us to start Soul Shepherding as a nonprofit ministry for those who minister to others—pastors, pastors’ wives, missionaries, and other Christian leaders and care-givers. We offer counseling, spiritual mentoring, seminars, and retreats to help people “Be all and only for Jesus.”


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