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A Pastor and Wife’s Divine Romance

Ray and Anne Ortlund have been an inspiration to Kristi and I. They showed us what it looks like for busy pastors, busy ministry leaders, and busy Christian parents to live a romance with Jesus at the center!

Recently I came across the sad statistic that 95% of pastors do not pray regularly with their spouse. This was not the case with our mentors who as pastor and wife prayed together every night before going to bed. Today Ray and Anne Ortlund are praying together in heaven! They are face-to-face with the Lord Jesus Christ in glory! Anne died recently on November 4, 2013, just before her 90th birthday and six years after Ray. They are dearly missed.

Ray and Anne Ortlund, Beloved Mentors

For many years now Kristi and I have been blessed to followed Ray and Anne’s example of praying together every night. Most days we also share with each other what Jesus is teaching us through the Bible and daily life and how we’re experiencing God. We are Christ-centered friends first and partners in family and ministry second.

We have so admired how Ray and Anne teamed up as pastor and pastor’s wife and as co-leaders under Christ to minister to pastors and their wives and other ministry leaders. Their ministry together was called Renewal Ministries and it was the main inspiration behind the launch of Soul Shepherding, our own nonprofit ministry to pastors and leaders. They gave the best years of their lives to caring for and investing in pastors, especially ministry couples.

God used Ray and Anne to give Kristi and I the the vision, heart, and guidance to start Soul Shepherding. We spent two days on retreat with Ray and Anne as they coached us in our devotion to the Lord and serving him together in ministry as a couple. As Elisha did with his mentor Elijah, I boldly asked God for a “double anointing” of the Holy Spirit that operated through Ray! He and Anne laid their hands on Kristi and I and prayed over us and our ministry. I physically felt the warmth and sweetness of the anointing of the Holy Spirit and it lasted for two weeks!

Just being with Ray Ortlund, Sr. made me smile and increased my devotion to Jesus! I went through his year-long discipleship group for pastors. I was deeply impacted by how he worshiped the Lord with enthusiastic delight in daily life and how he humbly and freely gave himself away to pastors and leaders. He could have been busy running a huge church, writing a best-selling book, or speaking in front of 200,000 people in India — all things he had done — but he wanted to be in a quiet room with Jesus and a group of pastors! He opened up God’s Word and he opened up his heart to us. And not just us. Day after day, year after year, pastors from all over the world called on him for help and prayer and he gave them all he had.

I went on to met with Ray for private spiritual direction over a number of years. As I love to say, Ray inspired me to “Be all and only for Jesus!” (See my articles on Ray’s influence on me under the tag “Ray Ortlund, Sr.”)

When Church and Spouse are Rivals

“In ministry, the church is a rival to the wife,” Anne Ortlund said. As a pastor’s wife with her husband leading one of the first mega churches in America she knew this tension first hand! Every pastor’s wife feels this. As does every husband whose wife is a pastor or ministry leader. But Ray and Anne were not willing to sacrifice their marriage on the altar of ministry. They spent lots of time together.

One of the first encouragements Ray gave me was to keep setting aside the work of ministry aside to be with Kristi and regularly to go away with her just to have fun together. (We’re doing that this weekend!) Ray and Anne knew the effects of ministry stress on a pastor and wife and they said to ministry couples like Kristi and I: “The closer you get to Christ, the closer you get to each other and the less there will be between you.”

In other words, when you’re devoted to Jesus it’s natural that you’d talk with your spouse about the Lord — how you’re experiencing him, what he’s teaching you, and ways that you’re serving him. And it’s a great joy, as we said, for spouses who serve God to pray together. If you and your spouse are on different schedules you can pray together at another time. My friend and the executive pastor at my church, Michael Risley, and his wife Joanie pray together out loud spontaneously. Throughout the day as they’re talking about various issues often one or the other will offer a short prayer. That’s a great way to do it!

Ray-and-Anne-OrtlundRay and Anne Ortlund’s Romance

Ray and Anne met in a prayer group at the University of Redlands and as they listened to each other share their hearts with God, the beginnings of a God-inspired and passionate love began to stir in their souls.

“The first few weeks we talked to the Lord more than we talked to each other,” Anne said in an interview last February. Christ was at the center of their relationship right from the start.

The first date that Ray asked Anne out on was a moonlit horseback ride in San Bernardino, California! It was a romantic, balmy night. The stars were shining and moonbeams were glimmering on the rocks. As they rode their horses side-by-side Ray sang a hymn to his new sweetheart:

“Far away in the depths of my spirit tonight,
rolls a melody sweeter than psalm;
In celestial strains it unceasingly falls
O’er my soul like an infinite calm.
Peace, peace, wonderful peace,
Coming down from the Father above!
Sweep over my spirit forever, I pray
In fathomless billows of love!”

That night Ray went home and wrote a letter to his parents, telling them he found the girl he would marry!

Magnifying the Lord as Pastor and Wife

Ray and Anne dated every weekend for the next few months. Ray was a sailor in the Navy and shortly before Christmas 1944, as World War II raged on, he proposed. He dropped to his knee, pulled a small New Testament and Psalms from the breast pocket of his Navy uniform, and recited Psalm 34:3: “Come magnify the Lord with me and let us exalt his name together.”

After the war ended, they married at the Fourth Presbyterian Church in Washington D.C., and honeymooned in the Shenandoah Valley.

“Come magnify the Lord with me and let us exalt his name together!” This became the theme verse of their marriage and ministry.

A Romance into Old Age

Their romance continued until Ray’s last breath on earth. “Do you know what elevators are for?” Anne once asked. “They are for kissing – if nobody else is in the elevator!”  She says it was one of the reasons they chose a high-rise condo for their final years!

In their fifties, the Ortlunds were eating in a restaurant when Ray suddenly put his fork down, stared at Anne for a few seconds, then began to cry.

“Ray, what’s the matter,” Anne asked.

“You’re just so beautiful,” he told her.

Often when Ray preached, he would lean over from the pulpit and say to Anne, “Do you have any idea how much I love you?”

As you can see, getting older didn’t dim the fires of romance for Ray and Anne! I saw Ray and Anne’s eyes sparkled for each other into their 80’s. Each believed that with age the other grew “happier and happier, wiser and wiser, sexier and sexier.” One time when I met with Ray he prayed for Kristi and I to have a great sex life. Another time he encouraged me to pray for Kristi while we made love. I have been happy to follow his advice!

Beyond “Till Death Do Us Part”

Before Ray’s death in 2007, he wrote several love notes to Anne and hid them around their house for her to find later. One note she found in 2012 said, “How can I thank you for all you mean to me?”

Another note said, “I was born to love you.”

“He always had me on his mind,” Anne said. “He was so happy because he lived in the presence of God, but he was conscious of me too.”

Right up until shortly before she died Anne said, “I’m still Ray’s soulmate. I talk out loud to him because I miss him.” She knew that she and Ray wouldn’t be married in heaven, but prayed they would be dearest friends and she said, “The exciting marriage is between Christ and the church. That wedding will be off the charts!”

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