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  • Writer's pictureMark Alan Williams

What I Learned From My Dad

Claude A. Williams Jr. had JOY, despite challenges.

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I’m sure that what I learned from my dad is far more than I realize. Although he went to be with the Lord in 2011, I spent my formative years with him and my mom. I’m sure that I’m a “chip off the old block” in dozens of ways: viewpoints, gestures, facial expressions, voice inflections and looks.

Dad, Claude A. Williams Jr., and me. Note his “trademark” pens in shirt pocket!

Of course, as a teen, being like my dad was unappealing. But with more maturity, I see many ways that I want to be like my dad, if I’m not already.

One of the ways is my dad’s joy in living, even when things seemed pretty bad to me.

While dad was dying, he was in the hospital for about a week and his pastor came and asked him how he was doing. Dad smiled and responded, “As I’ve often said, I’m doing better than I deserve.”

He was asked a few hours before he passed, “How are you doing dad?” His answer, “Wonderful.”

Question: How could he be doing that well? How could he have such joy?

Answer: He found joy in God’s way: J-O-Y

Here’s what I learned from my dad about how to have JOY:

1. J = Jesus Comes First

The best lesson I learned from my dad is that Jesus comes first.

When Jesus was asked “What is the greatest commandment” we read:

And he [Jesus] said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.’” (Matthew 22:37-38 ESV)

My father was never a paid clergyman or missionary like me, he was a businessman.

Dad’s family background included a mother who was a wonderful Christian and a dad who was sometimes a rascal.

But not my dad.

a. Dad Loved God “with all His Heart”

What is our heart? It’s the seat of one’s affection and will (devotion).[1]

If we love God with all our heart, then He is the most important thing to us. Other things in life have some importance, but He is NUMBER ONE.

You might ask: “How do I get that kind of love for God? It’s just not happening for me right now.”

The answer is: You spend time with God. You say, “He is my most important priority, therefore I will build my love for Him and build my relationship by spending significant time with Him.”

Question: Where can I get that time?

Answer: According to the A.C. Nielsen Co., the average American watches more than 4 hours of TV each day (or 28 hours/week, or 2 months of nonstop TV-watching per year). In a 65-year lifetime, that person will have spent 9 years glued to the tube.

Which people are you closest to? I’m sure you have spent significant time with whoever you are close to—that is the only way you get close to someone.

Likewise, we “love God with all our hearts” because we spend time with him in:

  • Reading ScriptureMeditating on Scripture

  • Listening to Scripture: Bible recordings, podcasts, Christian radio & TV

  • Prayer

  • Fellowshipping in church and Bible study groups

  • Worshipping

  • Mentoring relationships with other believers

b. Dad Loved God “with all His Soul”

And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.’” (Matthew 22:37-38 ESV)

“Christ said we are to love God ‘with all our soul,’ that is, with all our life, our breath, our consciousness.[1]

Like our saying, “he lives-and-breathes golf …or politics…or his job …or her grandchildren.” We should “live and breathe” God.

I learned from my dad how important the church is. Dad hated to miss church because he loved God and God’s family so much. When I was growing up, we were in church every time the doors were open. That meant:

  • Sunday morning for worship service and Sunday School

  • Sunday evening for Youth/Choir practice and Sunday evening worship service. (I never got to watch Lassie or the Wonderful World of Disney)

  • Tuesday evening for AWANA club

  • Wednesday evening for prayer meeting


  • Bible Conferences

  • Vacation Bible School

  • Christian summer camp

When dad was in his 20’s, he left a job because it conflicted with his Sunday morning worship attendance. You might think that is legalistic, but I think it really showed where his soul was.

In a biblical metaphor the church is “the body of Christ.” He is the head, we are the body, each a part of it. That is an almost unbelievable endorsement of the significance of the church.

Dad loved Jesus and He loved His body the church.

c. Dad Loved God “with all His Mind”

“The Mind” is the seat of reasoning and understanding.

Some think that becoming a follower of Christ means you throw away your brains! Quite the contrary, your mind is sharpened to understand not only the universe we live in, but the ways of God as well.

I learned from my dad to love the Bible. Dad studied the Bible avidly.

There was one possession that he had with him in his hospital death bed: his Bible. He literally died with the Bible on his lap.

No one is perfect, but overall dad was a great man. Why? Largely because he studied and followed God’s Word.

2. O = Others Come Second

This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:38-40 ESV)

Stuff was not important to dad, and I learned from my dad that people are far more important.

When our three boys were young and rambunctious, I remember dad telling me once when we were going out to visit them in Ohio; “Don’t worry about the stuff in our house. The stuff is replaceable. But children are irreplaceable.” He really put us at ease and taught me a valuable lesson about “stuff” as compared to people.

He was right about it too. In his casket, he took only a few things:

  • His Bible

  • A pen in his pocket: his trademark

  • An Ohio State Buckeyes cap, his hobby

Everything else is left behind and of course he did not really take any of those things, just as Steve Jobs who died also in 2011, took nothing.

a. Dad’s Family Love and Commitment

My dad’s commitment to and love for my mother Barbara was wonderful. They were married 45 years before mom died.

mom and dad, Claude & Barbara Williams

They had a ritual when he went off to work each day: she would go over to the kitchen window and as he was pulling out of the driveway, she would wave the white curtain in the kitchen window to say one last goodbye for the day.

When she died suddenly in 1995, he was devastated.

He eventually remarried to Millie who soon got Alzheimer’s disease. He remained steadfastly loyal and caring to her for 13 years until she died.

My dad had two wonderfully successful marriages, because he was willing to work to make his spouse happy instead of just wanting to be served and be made happy.

He was also dedicated to us children. One of my favorite memories with my parents was my re-baptism in the Jordan River. I was baptized by the associate pastor at our Baptist church. Thus I was baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. Afterwards my father said, “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.”

Baptism in the Jordan River

b. Dad’s Friendship Love and Commitment

My friend Steve told me about his mother. He said that in her priorities, she was way on top, her children were a bit down and everyone else was “way down there.” He said she is not a happy person. God was not in the equation.

God designed us to need friendship. I learned from my dad to love others.

Dad had a favorite restaurant called “Smokey Bones.” He befriended a young waitress there and when we went to eat there and told her he passed away, she cried.

Dad had a heart for the downtrodden, those needing help. His renters were not a business as much as friends, a way to help and witnessing opportunities. This annoyed my mother and us children—it seemed he let people take advantage of him. But at its heart was a love for people and it is hard to fault that. Several of his tenants visited him in the hospital and attended his funeral.

Dad was always sharing his faith in Jesus and handing out Christian pamphlets to witness. We received this note after he passed away:

“My employer bought Claude’s insurance agency in 2003 and I had the pleasure of seeing Claude’s shining face every day for about 5 years. He helped me through many struggles in life but most of all he was there to help me through my salvation.”

3. Y = You Comes Last

I learned from my dad that you comes last.

Question: What does it mean to put “you” last?

Answer: First, let’s think about what it does NOT mean. It does not mean that you never think about your needs. Jesus said; “And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39 ESV)

Question: Do you see “you” in that statement?

Answer: I say yes, “you” is there, but it’s last and it is taken for granted that you will love yourself. In fact, our natural inclination is self-centered and self-seeking.

“You” naturally comes first! But to find joy, you must spell it right, JOY, with “you” last.

In fact, many people think that you spell JOY, YOJ:

  • You

  • Others second

  • Jesus, in third place, if in there at all.

That spells YOJ, not JOY!

May God help us to learn what I learned from my dad, to find joy by putting our lives in JOY priority…


Dad with 4 of us kids. I’m the one standing with hand on dad’s shoulder. Sitting are Cindy & Brian. Newborn is Jonathan.

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[1] Preacher’s Outline and Sermon Bible – Commentary.

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