Doug Williams and I were opposites in so many ways; however, one thing we proudly shared in common was our alma mater, Abilene Christian University. And with that, a common respect for, and admiration of, a professor there: Dr. John T. Willis.
One of the courses I had with Dr. Willis was a study of the book of Jeremiah. I remember the first class session of that course. We spent precious little time in Jeremiah and almost all of our time elsewhere in Scripture, studying how the Old Testament uses the word “prophet.”
One thing we quickly learned from our study was that the way the Old Testament speaks of a prophet and the way people commonly think today of a prophet are two very different things. Today, people tend to think of a prophet as someone who speaks of things in the distant future. However, while this certainly occurs in happenings recorded in Scripture, it is a relatively rare thing. Far more often Scripture emphasizes the role of the prophet regarding matters of the moment. While the future is sometimes, even often, in view, it is the present that makes up the lion’s share of the prophet’s words and works; it is the here and now that consumes the prophet of God’s attention.
Nowhere is this made more clear than in the words that are found to keep company with the word “prophet” in Scripture. Or to put it another way, in the synonyms used for “prophet.”
For example, frequently a prophet is referred to as a spokesman or messenger of God. A prophet of God is someone who keenly aware that they bear the message of another to others. The message they share is not their own. Their task is to convey that message, to communicate it clearly and candidly, and to live it by it themselves as well.
Similarly, a prophet is known as a servant. As in the phrase “my servants, the prophets.” A prophet’s words and ways are stimulated and motivated by the one they serve, the Lord God. In a word, their life is one of service. They minister to God and on behalf of God, in the way they minister to, serve, the needs of others. As a servant, their own will is irrelevant; it is the Master’s will that drives their thinking and doing.
A prophet is like a watchman. In ancient times, a watchman was not merely someone who helped guard the gates of a city, but one who did so by careful observation and listening. Their task was to pay close attention to what was actually happening outside the city, as well as within, and, as needed, to report their findings to those to whom they were under charge (e.g. – the elders of the people, the king, etc.). In this way, they were a blessing to, and sought to preserve and increase the blessing of, the people they watched after, particularly to those who were society’s most vulnerable. Their observations, or the lack thereof, were crucial, for they could spell life or death for many.
Ultimately, a prophet is a man of God. They function as God’s gift to others. They come from God and are on their way to God. They hold up God to others and call to others by all they think, do, and say, to remember and submit to the God. It would not be at all too much to say that as a man of God, their whole life is about God.
And so, I do not hesitate to say that the Doug Williams I knew was nothing less than a true, modern day prophet of God. And a mighty prophet at that, indeed.
We have all been greatly privileged by Doug’s presence among us. And we have all been made all the more responsible to God because of his time with us. So, might we honor the Lord, and thereby, best respect the name of Douglas Arthur Williams.