Ask Jani: “Christian Family Life”

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Episode Synopsis

Jani and Ray answer questions from listeners about how to raise a Christian family. They look at three important aspects of a Christian home: faith in Christ and His Word, enjoying each other, and a love for reading.

Audio Transcript

Jani: Welcome, everyone. We’re so glad you’re here with us today on He Restores My Soul with Jani Ortlund and Heidi Howerton.

I have a very special guest today. I happen to be married to him. His name is Ray Ortlund and we’re coming up now, honey, what, for 49 years of marriage?

Why Jani Trusts Ray

Oh, I want to tell our listeners something I really admire about you, Ray. So just close your ears or whatever you need to do. Although Ray is very strong physically and has powerful intellectual capacities for teaching, preaching, writing, the thing I love most about Ray is that I’ve seen him over and over again look to the Lord in prayer for Godly counsel rather than trusting in his own strength. I think of that verse in Zechariah 4:6,

“Not by might, nor by power, but by the Spirit of the Lord.”

Zechariah 4:6

I trust you, Ray, because you don’t trust yourself, first of all. You live and minister through the power of the Holy Spirit. Thank you for leading me in that.

Ray: Oh darling, thank you. That’s so kind of you. So generous of you.

Insight into Ray’s feelings about Jani

Okay, so you said something about me that you like, alright, now, it’s payback time.

Jani: Oh, no. This wasn’t in the script. Oh, well.

Ray: Okay. Now, this is much simpler. Yours was very wonderful. This is simpler, but very meaningful to me. Because I have a lot of self doubt inside. And here’s one thing that is so surprising and glorious about you, that…you like me!

Jani: I do. That’s true!

Ray: I feel affirmed by you. I feel rejoiced over by you. I do not feel scrutinized or judged or belittled or held at arm’s length or even tolerated. But it seems to me that you like me, and I’m amazed at that. And it really energizes me. It builds me up. It puts wind in my sails. And it’s empowering to me, Jani. And I am able to accomplish so much more because the most important person in my life here in this world believes in me. Thank you. That’s huge.

Jani: Oh, it’s such a privelege. Oh, we are not supposed to cry on our podcast. But I do like you. Oh my.

Well, honey, thanks for joining me today.

QUESTION 1: “How did you teach your children the Bible?”

Some of our listeners have asked for a peek into our family life when our kids were small. Oh, we had four kids in seven years. Didn’t we?

Ray: And I miss those years. We worked hard and we had a blast.

Jani: Yes. It’s a “both/and” isn’t it?

Well, here’s one question that a listener sent in. We’re gonna talk about a few today. Here’s the first one.

“How did you teach your children the Bible? And can you give us help in leading our children to a personal faith in Christ?”

Ray: Well, what would you say about that, darling?

Jani: I think, honey, the most important way we taught our kids the Bible was during our family devotions after dinner. We tried to make a regular practice of that, didn’t we? And you would lead us. I would try to have a little bit of dessert so that it could keep the kids happy and help them to see how pleasant it was.

Ray: Yeah, we enjoyed family devotions. The basic ground rule, it seems to me is: little kids, little devotions. Bigger kids, more extended, more thoughtful. But never tedious and oppressive, but joyous and pitched to their level of understanding.

You can do this! Because…

By the way, here’s why every parent listening to this can be confident that, “I can teach my children the Bible.” For one thing, let me speak to every mom, every dad. You are the world’s greatest expert on your kids. There is no one else on the face of the earth who loves your kids more than you do and who understands your kids better than you do. You are the God-appointed, world-class expert on your precious kids. You have every right in Christ to have a foundation of confidence as you go into this sacred task of teaching your kids the Bible.

Jani: That’s good. And I like your advice about little kids; little time and little…how did you put it?

Ray: Well, and bigger kids more extended.

Remember “Joyous Affirmation with Gentle Control” (Expectations)

We have to be compassionate and understanding. And when we’re teaching our children the Bible, we’re reading the Bible, talking about a Bible story, I think we need to blend simultaneously—really, not only during Bible time, but throughout the household—blend joyous affirmation of our children with gentle control of our children, both simultaneously. It’s not an either/or it’s a both/and. Joyous affirmation and gentle control. So that when you’re having Bible time, it is not wrong to expect the kids to pay attention.

Hmm. Yes. “Sit still. Listen. Be respectful.”

Yeah, and that’s a legitimate expectation. You were wise, Jani, in saying, you know, “Do this during dessert time,” because then their blood sugars, blood sugar levels are back up a little bit. And maybe during dessert? And how long does dessert take? You know, three to five minutes? Well, you can have a significant Bible time in three to five minutes.

Jani: Yes, yes.

Ray: For example, you can together, memorize one verse of the Bible.

Jani: Remember how we did that one year, we took a verse from every book of the Bible and we try to do one or more each week, and at the end of the year, we had promised them if they could do this, there was going to be a big reward. Of course, you and I knew we already had a trip planned to California.

Ray: It was Disneyland, wasn’t it?

Jani: Yes, it was!

Ray: We were gonna take them anyway but we used a bribe.

Jani: That’s right.

TIP: Kids Respect Authenticity

Well, I think too, honey, one of the things that helped our our kids was seeing us love the Bible, read the Bible. Sometimes when they came down in the morning, we’d be there reading our Bibles with our cups of tea and coffee. They knew we revered God’s word. And I think that’s really important.

Ray: Yeah, authenticity. Kids can smell hypocrisy a mile away. But they also respect authenticity. So, sweetheart, you know, if you and I honestly love the Lord, we’re very fallible but we love the Lord, we believe the Bible. He’s at the center, he’s not marginal, he’s not a sidebar. And I want to say to every parent, if that’s your heart for the Lord, you can be very imperfect in how you teach the Bible and which portions you choose, etc, your method might be less than the best. Of course, that’s always true for all of us. But your kids will never forget your genuine heart for the Lord and His Word. And long after you’re with the Lord above in glory, and they are middle aged and older people, they will remember not only what you taught them, but also who you are. And they will be profoundly moved and profoundly helped all their lives by this example, you’re showing every day in your home.

Jani: Hmm, that’s so encouraging, Ray, thank you. Thank you.

TIP: Give the Bible as a Special Gift

You know, one other thing that we did was we gave our kids their own Bibles as very special gifts. And they loved that they loved having their own Bible that they could bring to family devotions at times.

“What about their Personal Faith in Christ?”

You know, there’s another aspect of this, our question asks about, and that’s leading our own children to a personal faith in Christ. Each of our four kids does love the Lord Jesus and they came to faith as children in our home. Could you talk to us about that a little bit?

Ray: Well, you and I both, honey, would hasten to admit it was all of God’s grace. It was not “our great parenting” but it was God’s great grace.

Jani: Fortunately.

Ray: Yes. And we made many mistakes as parents.

Jani: Just ask our kids.

Ray: Yeah, but God is merciful and he’s merciful in every home represented among our listeners right now. God is present in that home. God is speaking to the hearts of our children. God is awakening an awareness, a sensitivity, a consciousness of God. And also awakening an awareness of sin.

I remember as a little kid in kindergarten. I mean, it just sounds ridiculous. In a way it was, but it was the first time I realized, “Oh, there’s something wrong with me!” I was sitting across the table from a little girl during lunch hour, and she made the mistake of putting her oatmeal raisin cookie out on the table in front of her. Well, I happen to love oatmeal raisin cookies and my greedy little hand reached out and grabbed her oatmeal raisin cookie. I stuffed it in my greedy little mouth and she ran crying to the teacher and the teacher came and I was in trouble. And I realized, “Huh, this doesn’t feel right.” Now I was what, five years old then?

About a year later, and I can’t remember how this happened, but we were sitting as a family at the breakfast table with my mom on my right, my dad on my left, my two sisters across the table, and we’re having our Cheerios and so forth. And somehow (I forget the context) Dad began to explain the gospel to me, and how Jesus died for my sins. And I connected the dots I realized, oh, my goodness, yes. And he invited me to receive Christ as my Savior. And so I bowed my little six year-old head and prayed my little six year-old prayer, and it was very meaningful to me, children are capable of being awakened by the Holy Spirit. This was so meaningful to me, it was really a very profound experience. And I felt the weight of what I didn’t even understand, I couldn’t have explained it. But in hindsight, it was a sense of guilt, a sense of sin, being lifted away, thanks to Jesus. And that’s when my dad led me to Christ when I was at the breakfast table.

Jani: That’s beautiful.

Ray: That’s how the Lord does it. In the context of just everyday life.

Jani: Home life.

Ray: Yes.

Jani: And we can look for times in our kids’ lives when they’re struggling with guilt. And talk to them about that. Talk to them about Jesus. I know each of our four kids, Ray, they were willing to talk to us about this. And we’re so grateful for that.

TIP: Be in a (Healthy!) Christian Community

I would also hasten to add, it helps if you’re in a Christian community. If you’re going to a church where they’re seeing this message from others, along with their parents, if there are other believers that you’re friends with, and their children are coming to faith in Christ, so I would really encourage our listeners to have Christian friends.

Ray: Yes, and a healthy church. If you have a choice in your community, don’t go to a liberal church that plays fast and loose with the Bible. Don’t go to an angry, legalistic church that just wants to clamp down on everybody in a sort of religious crowd control. Go to a Jesus-loving, Bible-preaching, gospel-heralding, healthy church. Be there every Sunday. Do not wake up on Sunday morning asking the question, “Are we going to church today?” If you wake up on Sunday morning that way, you are declaring to your children that Jesus is trivial. So you make the commitment, we’re going to be there. We’re going to darken the door every time Sunday services are held. And we’re gonna declare to our children just by this healthy rhythm of life of worshiping the Lord in a healthy church every Sunday. We’re gonna say something to our kids. And, you know, when kids grow up, honey, in that kind of healthy home and healthy church, it’s hard not to get saved.

Jani: That’s right. That’s a good way to put it, Ray. Well, thank you for that.

QUESTION 2: “How can I raise children who enjoy being part of our family?”

Another question that came in about our family is this:

“How can I raise children who enjoy being part of our family?”

So I think, Ray, this listener is wondering, were there any things we did in our family to try to help our children enjoy being Ortlunds?

Make your home easy to enjoy!

I think that enjoyment really signifies love. If you enjoy someone that means you want to be with them. You love them. So enjoyment, it is a huge part of family life. Ought to be, I think.

Ray: Yes. When our children feel enjoyed, sincerely enjoyed, they construe that experience as love, which it is. So, you and I made a decision early on, let’s create a home environment that our children will really like.

Jani: Yes, it’s easy for them to like.

Ray: Easy for them to like, easy for them to enjoy, easy for them to believe in Jesus, easy for them to be fallible. It’s not an explosive environment. For example, you and I made a commitment early on, we will never yell at each other. Yelling, screaming, slamming doors. That kind of behavior is unthinkable in our home. And instead, we’re going to be gentle, and affirming, and cheerful, and reasonable. And we’re going to listen to each other and so forth.

TIP: Family Night

Jani: Here’s one thing we determined to do when we had children at home that was to have one night, at least each week, that was a family night where we didn’t have sports, we didn’t have piano recitals, you were in town, I didn’t have parent teacher conferences,

Ray: No company.

Jani: Right. It usually was Friday night. And didn’t we have fun?

Ray: It was a blast.

Jani: Yeah. I tried to cook something very simple. Usually pizza or we ordered in. It was easy for me so I looked forward to it. The kids didn’t have chores, they didn’t have to do dishes so they looked forward to it. And we would have the most fun. Remember how we played the anything game?

Ray: Oh, gosh. Yes. It was kind of charades wasn’t it?

Jani: Right, when the children were young, they would have to think of something that they wanted to act out.

Ray: It could be anything.

Jani: And then they would act it out and we all had to guess. Remember when Christa was a candle?

Ray: She was the flame. She just stood there and wiggled.

Jani: Yeah, it was so fun. As they got older, we played different games. Sometimes we’d watch a movie. We just had as much fun as we could. We had a ping pong table, we go down and play ping pong.

Ray: Oh, I miss that.

Jani: Yeah, so family night.

TIP: Family Vacations

Ray: Yeah, vacations, too. Even when we couldn’t afford it, we just found a way to take at least, you know, one week, each summer and get out of town, get in our minivan and go somewhere else. Go to Wisconsin, we lived in in the Chicago area, Wisconsin or Minnesota somewhere and just go do something and have fun, go fishing or visit family something and make it work. And those were the times, when we were out of town, where hilarious and memorable things happened that became part of our family narrative. Sort of the inside jokes, you know.

Jani: Like the fish in the toilet?

Ray: In the hotel in Wisconsin, right?

Jani: Yeah.

Ray: I can’t help but laugh even as you mention it right now.

Jani: That’s right. Oh, vacations.

TIP: Family Celebrations

And also celebrations. We tried to celebrate each other birthdays, graduations, awards that children had received. Because we want to cheer each other on in a family. A child wants to know that he or she will be recognized.

Ray: Yes, yes. And we wanted to create a “for you” social environment, where children knew they would be recognized and effort is worth it. And trying something new, will not be mocked, but rewarded and honored.

TIP: Use Rewards

Jani: Speaking of rewards, we also tried to use rewards for motivation.

Ray: We were never above bribes.

Jani: That’s right! I still use them with the grandchildren. I think of when the kids were just begging for a dog. And we didn’t think we could handle it or afford one. But we set up some certain guidelines. And they had to care for another dog for an extended period.

Ray: Did we babysit some…?

Jani: Yes. The Erlandson’s yellow lab when they went on vacation for two weeks. And our kids did very well.

Ray: That’s right.

Jani: And they took care of that dog. And so at the end we said, “Okay, this is how you can earn the right to have our own dog. If you show me that you can care.” So rewards.

Ray: It also builds trust, too. Because if parents make a deal with the children and then follow through, according to the stated expectations, the children’s trust the parents that much more.

Jani: Yes.

Well, these are some of the ways we tried to help our kids enjoy being an Ortlund.

QUESTION 3: “How did you help your kids enjoy reading?”

The final question for this episode, Ray, comes from a listener who asks,

“Can you give us guidance on reading with your children, helping them to enjoy good books, and being able to interact with different kinds of literature?”

Ray: Jani, you know so much more about this than I do. I mean, you taught school for so many years. But here’s just one memory I can offer in our conversation.

When you were teaching school, darling, you had to leave for work earlier than I did. And so, our three older children were off in junior high and high school, and I was there with Gavin in the home for perhaps 30 or 45 minutes after everyone else had left. And then I would take him to school on my way to work.

And I read to him during breakfast. And we had a book, Classics to Read Aloud to Your Children. And we had a companion volume, Classic Myths to Read Aloud to Your Children. And I would just take one chapter as he ate his Cheerios or whatever, and I would just read out loud to him, and he was totally engaged, and I believe he remembers that to this day. But there was a 30 minute blank I could fill in right there that required no special effort or planning on my part, I had this book that was sort of pre-arranged for a dad like me who needed a resource, and there it was, and Gavin enjoyed it.

Jani: And greatly benefited from it. Yes.

Well, I think that that’s the key to helping children learn to love to read. From a very young age, Ray, you read to them, don’t you remember? After we’d get them all in their pajamas and they’d cuddle up on our couch together and you would read Winnie the Pooh or Spot the Dog or

Ray: Where the Wild Things Grow.

Jani: Yes, yes. And they loved that time with you. They loved interacting and being close and snuggling in. So read to your children daily, if possible.

Ray: Make it a priority.

Jani: Yes. Provide a good example by your own reading. Do they ever see you read a good book or over dinner do you talk with your spouse about what you’re reading.

And build up a good children’s library for your home? Have lots of books. It’s a wonderful investment. We still have many of them that our kids loved, and our grandchildren love them now.

“How did you handle about screen time?”

Ray: Sweetheart, is part of that setting a limit on TV and computers and screen times?

Jani: Absolutely. Oh, I think the parents are gonna cringe when they hear this. Do you remember our limit?

Ray: I don’t remember.

Jani: It was one hour a day.

Ray: Okay. Which is a generous allowance, in my opinion. It was almost a violation of my conscience.

Jani: And it was usually Little House on The Prairie while I was fixing dinner, something like that. Then on Friday night, if we wanted to watch a movie, we would that would be more. Of course, we raised our kids before iPhones.

Ray: It’s all the more important now to set limits.

Jani: Now it’s very important. So we would encourage you to limit screen time. And you can even reward screen time through reading. Oh, would you like 20 more minutes of screen time? Well, then let’s read this together first and then you can do that.

TIP: Use Books as Gifts

We also used books as gifts. Every Christmas and every birthday, each child got a new book.

Ray: Along with other gifts.

Jani: Along with other gifts. Yes, it wasn’t the gift. We didn’t want to do that. But we wanted to make sure they understood that we felt books were really special. Because reading really needs to be an unforced invitation into a new world, into something glorious, wonderful that they will carry throughout their whole lives.

Well, we hope this has answered your questions. Thank you so much for sending them in. And, darling, thank you for joining me today.

Ray: It’s a privilege, honey. Thank you.

Jani: Really appreciate it. May the Lord restore your souls. God be with you.

Thank You

Thank you for joining us today. This podcast is generously funded through Renewal Ministries. If you would like to discover more about Jani and Ray’s ministry or make a donation, visit their website at If you have a question for Jani or would like to learn more about this podcast, please visit our website at

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About The Podcast

He Restores My Soul with Jani Ortlund seeks to encourage women with God’s renewing power for their busy lives. Episodes include relevant biblical teaching, stimulating gospel conversations with other Christians, and “Ask Jani” sessions where we talk about what’s on our listeners’ hearts.

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