In public, my dad was one of the great pastors of his generation. He served most notably for twenty fruitful years at Lake Avenue Congregational Church in Pasadena, where John and Noel Piper worshiped during their Fuller Seminary days. Dad and John were dear friends.
In private, my dad was the same man. There was only one Ray Ortlund, Sr. — an authentic Christian man. The distance between what I saw in the New Testament and what I saw in my dad was slight. He was the most Christlike man I’ve ever known, the kind of man, the kind of father, I long to be.
In no particular order, here are ten lessons on fatherhood I learned from watching him, each lesson living on in my life from memories of his care for me.
1. He was never too busy.
My dad was a busy pastor, but he was never too busy for me. When he felt he hadn’t had enough time with me, he’d say, “Hey Bud, want to skip school tomorrow and go down to the beach?” It didn’t take me long to agree to that! So off we went. We surfed and talked and had fun together. The next day he’d write a note to the school to explain my absence, and when I took it to the principal’s office they always marked my absence “Unexcused.” I guess the reason didn’t count with them — a father wanting to catch up with his son. But dad didn’t care. I mattered to him. And I knew it.
2. He was a Bible man.
My dad was wholeheartedly devoted to Jesus. On my seventeenth birthday, he and my mom gave me a new Bible. In the front he wrote the following:
Nothing could be greater than to have a son — a son who loves the Lord and walks with Him. Your mother and I have found this Book our dearest treasure. We give it to you and doing so can give nothing greater. Be a student of the Bible and your life will be full of blessing. We love you.
When I read that, I knew my dad meant every word of it. He was a Bible man, and the blessing he wrote about was obvious in his own life.
3. He praised God.
As a kid growing up, I didn’t need an alarm clock most mornings. I woke up to the sound of my dad singing in the shower down the hallway. Every morning he sang heartily and cheerfully this hymn:
When morning gilds the skies My heart awaking cries
May Jesus Christ be praised
Alike at work or prayer
To Jesus I repair May Jesus Christ be praised
Many men are hard to read. I have no idea what they stand for. But I never wondered about my dad — what he cared most about, what he was living for. Never once. At all. Not even a little. He did not take a keep-a-low-profile approach to life. Jesus was too wonderful to him. He praised the Lord throughout his life, in public, in private, in a clear and winsome way that could not be ignored.
4. He cheered me on.
My dad set me free to pursue God’s call on my life. He guided me in appropriate ways, of course, but he did not fearfully cling to me or hope I would always live nearby. Just the opposite. He urged me to follow Christ anywhere. Now and then he’d make this speech: “Listen, son. Half-hearted Christians are the most miserable people of all. They know enough about God to feel guilty, but they haven’t gone far enough with Christ to be happy. Be all-out for him! I don’t care if you’re a ditch-digger, as long as you love the Lord with all your heart.”
He was not impressed with worldly success and going to the right schools and all that pretense and bluff. He wanted something better for me, something I had to find on my own. But I never doubted how urgently he desired for me a clear call from God on my life. And I did receive it, partly because my dad didn’t intrude himself into it but cheered me on as I followed the Lord myself.
5. He had a real walk with God.
I remember going downstairs early one morning and walking in on my dad in the living room. There he was, on his knees, his face buried in his hands, absorbed in silent prayer. He didn’t know anyone else was up. It wasn’t for show. It was real. My dad had a real walk with God. It never occurred to me to wonder if Jesus was the Lord of his heart and of our home. Dad loved the gospel. He served the church. He witnessed to our neighbors. He even tithed when he couldn’t afford it. He set the tone of our home, and our home was a place of joy, honesty, and comfort. Jesus was there.
Written by Ray Ortlund
Full story at Desiring God