What’s to Worry About?
About the Guest
Dr. Winfred Neely, a professor at Moody Bible Institute, shares biblical wisdom for dealing with stress and worry. Neely recalls how his mother found strength to navigate through her worries by leaning into the Scriptures. Neely, an admitted boundary pusher as a kid, remembers the day when a fellow soldier in the Army shared the gospel, and how that moment eventually led him to attend Bible college, and later accept the call to do God's work in Africa.
Dr. Winfred Neely shares biblical wisdom for dealing with stress and worry. Neely recalls how his mother found strength to navigate through her worries by leaning into the Scriptures.
What’s to Worry About?
Bob: As parents, we often pray that our children will do great things for God; but what happens when they come to us and say that’s exactly what they want to do? Sometimes, we get worried. Here’s Dr. Winfred Neely.
Winfred: You have a child that’s raised up in a middle class and upper middle class suburb somewhere; and they come home and say, “Mom, I want to serve Christ in an at-risk community,” where there’s gun violence and everything else going on. The parental instinct is to tell the child: “No; you’re crazy. You can do something else with your life,” when, in fact, what we need to do is step back and ask God, “Lord, what are You doing?”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, July 12th. Our host is Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. What’s the difference between being prudent and protective of our children and being controlling or even steering them away from God’s will for their life?
We’re going to talk about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I brought our guest in today for you, you know.
Dennis: —because my mom called me a “worry wart”?
Bob: You’ve kind of described yourself as being prone to worry; right?
Dennis: I have been known to have some anxiety from time to time.
Dennis: One of my favorite passages—in fact, I was going to read this later, but I think our listeners may need to hear this at the outset—Philippians, Chapter 4, verses 6 and 7 says, “Do not be anxious about anything”—how many things?—none. [Laughter]
Bob: In the Greek,—
Dennis: That’s right.
Bob: —“nothing” means nothing; right?
Dennis: “but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God and the peace of God”—
—ah, yes; the peace of God / I have known that well—“which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
If you have a problem with worry, I want to challenge you to memorize that verse. I have a feeling that our guest, Dr. Winfred Neely, who joins us on the broadcast, agrees with the Apostle Paul here.
Winfred: I do, wholeheartedly.
Dennis: He has written a book called How to Overcome Worry. Winfred is a professor at Moody Bible Institute, pastor of Judson Baptist in Oak Park, Illinois, and been married to Stephne since 1976—has four adult children and nine grandchildren.
Do you have any worries about your family, now that you’re a grandparent, looking at what’s taking place with young people today?
Winfred: Sure; sure.
Dennis: Do you worry?
Winfred: Well, yes.
Fortunately, I have tools to deal with it, but I find myself deeply—
Dennis: But sometimes the concern does bleed over into true anxiety and true worry.
Winfred: It really, really does. I don’t think the experience itself is something that we’re exempt from this side of heaven, but Scripture does provide us with tools to conquer our own worries and anxieties.
Bob: Well, I think that’s a great point; because, at the start of a program, where we’re talking about dealing with worry, we just have to acknowledge that worry’s part of the human condition. Jesus said, “In this world you’ll have”—he said—“tribulation”; but I think there’s some worry tied up with tribulation. The point is—not how to get rid of worry. What you’ve written in your book is how to overcome it when it comes; right?
Winfred: That’s right. And come it will—
Bob: Yes; right.
Winfred: —come. Every season of life will bring with it its own unique worries.
You know, I have nine grandchildren. You know, when I learn that one of them is sick, or one of them is not doing well, or one of them may not be doing the best in school, next thing I know I have this well of anxiety springing up for two reasons: one, I’m concerned about my grandchild; and two, I’m wondering how my children, who are parents now, are going to be able to navigate these waters. You know, they are talking to us and asking us for prayer, and then my wife and I are dialoguing. Yes, I do find myself worried; but fortunately, thank God, the gospel provides us with a solution to overcome our worries.
Dennis: You begin your book with a story from your own childhood. I found it interesting that you saw your mom worrying. It was a big deal to you, but you can’t remember what she was worrying about.
Winfred: Dennis, I have no idea what it was that worried her; but I remember the experience. I remember the look in her eyes, the slump in the shoulder, the tone of voice, and just her whole demeanor. When she said, “I am worried,” I knew that it was not good. I was distressed, as a child—that my own mother was going through something like that.
Dennis: And yet, she did make it through the challenge.
Winfred: She did!
Dennis: And did she point the family to a spiritual solution—as you talk about in your book—as she went through this period of anxiety?
Winfred: She did; she did. I think my mother’s way—my mother knew the Lord Jesus Christ, but she wasn’t what I would consider to be an instructed Christian in the faith. She knew Christ / she knew the Lord, but she wasn’t discipled well—didn’t know the Word very well.
What she did know she passed on to me, and I do think that one of the ways that my mother navigated her own worries was through fellowship at the church.
Dennis: Were you a worry to her?
Winfred: Yes! [Laughter]
Dennis: I was the worry wart for my mom.
How did you worry her? Did you kind of push the boundaries?
Winfred: Push the boundaries is an understatement! I did some great—you know, I kind of look back at that person; and I ask myself, “Who was that person?” That person, of course, was me. [Laughter]
Winfred: I think about some of the things that I did—
Bob: So, I’m curious.
Bob: Growing up in a home, where mom, as you said—not well discipled / she knew Christ but not really well discipled—you were a little bit of a boundary-pusher.
Bob: How did God get ahold of you and reorder your life?
Winfred: Well, you know, that’s interesting. My mother took me to church when I was a little boy.
She exposed me—she would tell me Bible stories—the stories that she did know from Scripture she would tell me. As a little boy, I was under conviction; I was under conviction.
She also taught me how to pray when I was a little boy. I remember she was walking up the hall—just, out of nowhere, she comes up to me and she says to me, “Winfred, I’m going to teach you how to pray.” Now, I love my mother. You know, she was an incredible woman and was very kind to me when I was growing up. She said, “I’m going to teach you how to pray.” She knelt down next to my bed, and it never occurred to me not to join her; so I got on my knees, next to my mother, and she taught me this little prayer: “Now I lay me down to sleep; I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
“If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”
Now, that’s not the gospel; but it did something. I knew that there was a God that I had to deal with. I understood that I had a soul—that I might not even make it through the night—and that I needed to be in relationship with Him. I think, as a little boy, that that was the beginning of my spiritual journey.
Through the years, I was under conviction; but I never heard a clear gospel. Eventually, I joined the United States Army; and I’m serving at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. I had been in the army a couple of years. I’m walking out of the PX—that’s the army department store—so I’m walking out of the PX, and a soldier accosts me and says to me, “May I talk with you for a few minutes?”
Now, I was kind of an easygoing kind of guy; so I didn’t want to tell the guy, “No.” I said, “Okay; sure.” He pulls out this book / this little booklet; you know what it was?
Dennis: Was it yellow?
Winfred: It was green: “The Four Spiritual Laws,” at least in terms of my memory it was green. A little green book: “The Four Spiritual Laws.”
Dennis: I’m not questioning your memory at all.
Dennis: A lot of them were produced in yellow, though. [Laughter]
Bob: They’ve done a green version, Dennis.
Dennis: They may have done away with yellow! Tell us what happened.
Winfred: Well, he begins to explain to me, basically, that God is over here and there is this gulf between God and me. I’m over here, and I can’t get to God. And then he draws a picture of a cross; and he says, “Jesus is the bridge between you and God. If you accept Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, God will bring you into an eternal relationship with Himself.”
That was the first time I heard the clear gospel. I didn’t trust Christ as my personal Lord and Savior at that point. Actually, I wanted to get away from the guy so that I could go on with my day; but those words never left me. That was the first time I understood that I had to trust Christ as my personal Lord and Savior in order to get into a right relationship with God.
Eventually, I met a guy on the base, who was a dishwasher with a third grade education, washing dishes for a living. Henry T. Plummer invited me to some services. Henry T. Plummer, with a third-grade education, led me to Jesus. At the age of 19, while I was serving at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, I opened up my heart and I received Christ as my personal Lord and Savior.
The Lord saved my soul for all eternity, and I will never forget it.
Dennis: And ultimately, you surrendered to the call of God to go to the continent of Africa and to serve Jesus Christ as a missionary for nine years.
Winfred: That’s right. That’s an interesting story, too; because I received Christ as my personal Lord and Savior—two weeks after I’m converted to Christ, I know that God wants me to serve Him in full-time Christian ministry. In three weeks, I was in the pulpit in a small church, preaching—yes; three weeks. [Laughter]
Now, Plummer—this is what he told me / he says to me: “Neely, just tell people how you got saved. That’s all you have to do. I don’t want you to do anything else. Just tell people how you say it.”
Dennis: Well, you didn’t have anything else to tell them!
Bob: That’s right. [Laughter]
Winfred: That’s right; but oh, I was so full of joy, I was all pumped up. My first sermon was nine minutes long—I think it was—about trusting Christ and receiving Christ as one’s personal Lord and Savior.
I was in Bible college when I got guidance from God about the mission field.
I was sitting in a chapel; and the gentleman was talking about his parents’ work in Malawi, one of the nations near the southern tip of Africa. Now, of course, at this time—this is some years / about four or five years have elapsed—I know that—I have some idea of what God is calling me to do. I know that He had given me the gift to teach—that had been confirmed in the community of believers, where I was being nurtured—that He had called me to preach the Word and that He had put it on my heart to go into full-time Christian ministry.
I was resistant to any kind of mission work; I was resistant to that whole idea. My protective mechanism against missions was this—I did not have the gift of evangelism. Now, I know God has called us to evangelize—every Christian has a responsibility to share his or her faith—but my reason was: “I did not have the gift of evangelism, so God could not possibly be calling me to be a missionary.”
I kind of ruled that out.
He [gentleman at chapel] was talking; and he says: “We don’t need evangelists in Malawi; we need Bible teachers. We need people to teach the people.” And the next thing I knew, the Spirit of God was speaking to me—not in an audible voice—but in a way that was much stronger than an audible voice of any sort. He was working in my heart, and my mind, and my life, and said to me/communicated to me, “Winfred, I want you to teach My Word somewhere on the African continent.” I told Jesus, “Yes.” I said, “I’ll do it.”
Bob: Did you tell your mom you were going to Africa?
Winfred: I did, but it was talking to Mrs. Neely—[Laughter]
Dennis: Oh, yes!
Winfred: —my wife!
Winfred: Stephne. We were married at this time. I think about it—now, we’ve had this conversation, my wife and I, about this particular story—so I’ve run this by her.
Dennis: So this is the truth.
Winfred: This is the truth—what I’m saying. [Laughter] You know, I think about it—I’m still in Bible college; I’m working a full-time job; we have two little girls at home; I have no real idea, at this point, about being an involved husband, you know. I was just kind of out here—I’m at work, and going to Bible college, and ministry, and not thinking about pouring into my wife and just being more present; so I was gone a lot.
Knowing what I know now, I would have come home; and I would have arranged for some babysitter.
I would have taken Stephne to a nice restaurant, and I would have had the soft music playing, and we would have had a good meal so everybody’s blood sugar is in order, and I would have grabbed her by the hand, and I would have said: “Now, honey, what I’m getting ready to say is kind of heavy; and I don’t need you to answer me tonight, but—
Dennis: In fact, you don’t want her to answer you tonight.
Winfred: “I don’t want you to answer me tonight. I would like for you to give this some prayerful consideration. I think that the Lord is calling us to serve Him somewhere on the African continent.”
If I had to do it again, I would do something along those lines; but that’s not what I did. I burst into the house, in the middle of the afternoon. Stephne was sweeping the floor: “Hey! God is calling us to Africa!” Stephne looked at me—now, my wife is an educated woman—I mean, she’s an intellectual well that never runs dry. She looked at me—she dropped all of the grammar, at that point, and said, “I ain’t going to no Africa.” [Laughter]
I thought to myself, “Lord, if this is what You want me to do, You’re going to have to speak to my wife about this.” I got out of the way, and the Lord began to speak to my wife. A couple years later, after we were in a meeting, where there was a missionary from the Ivory Coast giving a presentation—missionaries from New Tribes Mission giving a presentation—the Spirit of God worked in that meeting in such a mighty and powerful way. My wife came up to me afterwards, and looked me in the eye, and she said, “Winfred, is God calling us to go?” I said, “Yes, baby; He’s calling us to go.”
I knew then that Stephne Neely had said, “Yes,” to Jesus and just not merely following me. She has to have that sense of call from God, herself.
Bob: Winfred, we started today talking about worry and how to deal with worry. Hearing your story, I’m imagining there are some folks, who are listening, and they may have kids, who are following the Lord, who want to do dangerous things, like go to Africa.
Winfred: That’s right.
Bob: They may have kids, who are not following the Lord, and they’re worried about the direction their kids are headed. What do moms and dads do with that worry that’s a real worry about the safety of their kids or the spiritual condition of their kids? How do they process that?—what do they with it?
Winfred: Well, I think they need to remember that children are God’s gifts to us; and that, in a real sense, we’re stewards, as parents, to raise them up in the fear of God. But I also want to encourage parents—and I say this with as much compassion as I can muster:
“Get out of the way, and let the Lord do what He wants to do in the life of your child. It may not be serving in Africa. It may be serving in the inner city.”
You have a child that’s raised up in a middle class and upper middle class suburb somewhere. They come home and say, “Mom, I want to serve Christ in an at-risk community,” where there’s gun violence and everything else going on. The parental instinct is to tell the child: “No; you’re crazy. You can do something else with your life,” when, in fact, what we need to do is step back and ask God, “Lord, what are You doing?”
Listen—I experienced that myself. My oldest daughter came to me and told me, “Daddy, I believe the Lord is calling me to return to Senegal, West Africa, as a missionary.”
Dennis: —where you’d been.
Winfred: Yes; that’s right. I said: “That wasn’t in the plan! That wasn’t in the equation.”
Now, she’s married; she married a wonderful guy. I was on my knees in prayer, thanking God for calling my little girl—for His hand on my daughter’s life. I was so thankful; and all of a sudden, in the midst of prayer, I was overcome with sorrow and grief in the presence of God; because now it dawns on me, for the first time, how: “Oh! There’s going to be a price to pay here.”
Not only does the missionary pay a price, but parents and grandparents pay a price as well, when their children and grandchildren are involved in these kinds of endeavors before the Lord. Again, we have to get out of the way and release them to the Lord.
My daughter came back from West Africa, one year, and I looked at her—she had a depth in Jesus that I didn’t have.
Dennis: You want your children to have your faith, but that it’s their faith and that they’re willing to exercise that faith. Here’s what I’d say to parents, who are listening to you right now—I would remind them that they have arrows in their quiver and that you just mentioned the key word—you said, “…parents…must release them.”
I’m going to read this passage to you: “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord; the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them; he shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.” The arrows weren’t designed to stay in the quiver.
Winfred: That’s right.
Dennis: They were designed to be aimed and to be let go. Will you let go? Will you let the God of the universe, who knows what’s best for you, as a parent—but also for your kids—will you trust Him?
By the way, as the worry comes, get a copy of Winfred’s book and study how to overcome worry; because you may need it as you let go of your arrow.
Bob: The Bible speaks to how we’re to overcome worry, and that’s what the subject of this book is—that’s where you’ve gone to get your information. We have copies of How to Overcome Worry: Experiencing the Peace of God in Every Situation, by our guest today, Dr. Winfred Neely. Order it, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call to order: 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, the website: FamilyLifeToday.com. Our phone number is 1-800-358-6329—
—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
You know, I think there is just a connection between being a parent and experiencing worry. Dennis, I’ve heard you quote somebody who said that a child is a parent’s heart walking outside of their body. We get worried with our kids—with the choices they make/with the decisions they face. It’s natural for us, as parents, to have some fear or anxiety. Our goal, here, at FamilyLife® is to continue to point us back in the direction of God’s Word; so that we know how to live for God’s glory in our marriage and in our family.
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Now, tomorrow, we want to talk about how we fight against worry—when we experience it, what do we do with that? Our guest, Dr. Winfred Neely, joins us again tomorrow. We hope you can join us as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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