Standing on the Word
About the Guest
Dr. Winfred Neely, senior pastor of Judson Baptist Church in Oak Park, Illinois, recounts how anxious and afraid he and his wife were when their son, Sterling, came down with malaria while they served as missionaries in Africa. They prayed and released their son to the Lord, and soon the Lord restored their son's health. Neely explains how fervent prayer works to bring us peace.
Winfred NeelyPastor Neely is grateful to God for what Christ is doing in and through Judson Baptist Church. God has interwoven Pastor Neely's background to uniquely equip him to serve as JBC's senior pastor. He served as a missionary in Senegal, West Africa, as well as a pastor and church planter of a number of Chicagoland churches. Pastor Neely holds a B.A. from Trinity College, M.A. from Wheaton College Graduate School, D.Min. from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and is currently working on a Ph.D. in...more
Dr. Winfred Neely recounts how anxious and afraid he and his wife were when their son, Sterling, came down with malaria while they were in Africa. Neely explains how fervent prayer works to bring us peace.
Standing on the Word
Bob: Have there been times in your life when doing God’s will has filled you with anxiety, or fear, or worry? Dr. Winfred Neely says he can relate.
Winfred: It seems to me that God is more concerned about stretching my faith muscles than He is about making me comfortable; so I’m going to have to come to God in prayer. I’m going to have to believe Him. I’m going to have to literally take God at His Word—that’s what I’m going to have to do.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, July 13th. Our host is Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. Are there areas in your life, where God is trying to stretch your faith muscles, where you need to find the peace that passes understanding? We’ll talk about that today with our guest, Dr. Winfred Neely. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I think for most of us, living in this culture—having kids in this culture / grandkids in this culture—it’s easy for us to be troubled by the world around us and think, “What is it that our kids are going to be facing?—our grandkids are going to be facing?” Worry comes pretty easily for us in these days.
Dennis: It does; especially, when you had a mom like I had, who passed her DNA on to me. She was a worrier,—
Bob: She had the gene.
Dennis: —and I gave her good reason to worry.
We’ve got a guest, who caused his mom—[Laughter]—he confessed it, right here, to a live audience on FamilyLife Today. Dr. Winfred Neely joins us again on FamilyLife Today. Welcome to the broadcast—kindred spirit brother.
Winfred: We are indeed—indeed; indeed.
Dennis: You’re from a big town—big Chicago.
Winfred: That’s correct.
Dennis: I’m from a little bitty town in Southwest Missouri called Ozark, Missouri.
Dennis: It was so small you had to get a prescription to get a Coke® there—1,325 people.
You caused your mom some points of worry and, ultimately, grew up to be pastor of Judson Baptist Church in Oak Park, Illinois. You gave a series of messages at your church about how to overcome worry, and you turned it into a book.
Dennis: You shared, earlier, about how you came home and announced to your bride, Stephne—your bride now of more than 42 years—
Winfred: That’s correct.
Dennis: —four adult children / nine grandchildren—you announced to her when she was—how old?—that you were going to take her to West Africa?
Winfred: Twenty-four, I think.
Dennis: She didn’t receive it real well.
Winfred: She did not receive that well.
Dennis: There is a story, though—that you tell in the book—how she had gone with you; and while you were there, your son, who was born there,—
Dennis: —contracted a disease.
Winfred: Yes; we—Sterling—
—you know, malaria was common; so it was not an uncommon for missionaries in that part of the world to get malaria. I mean, it’s almost like the common cold; so they have medicines you take and things like that, and you’ll be okay in a few days.
We thought Sterling had malaria, but there was something else. Stephne noticed it first that there was something going on with him. We were giving him the malaria meds, and he was not getting better. He was becoming lethargic, breathing was labored; so we took him to a pediatrician in Dakar. He started treating Sterling for typhoid.
Now, that really got to us; because we had seen a number of things happen during this season in our lives. One missionary family—the husband died of a massive heart attack at 39—dies in front of his child.
A year later, the same family—the mother had returned to Senegal with the three children; and a year later, one of her sons was struck by a car and killed. We’re going through some major existential struggles here, questioning about: “You know, just what is God doing? Why is He allowing this to happen?”
Another friend of mine—a dear friend of mine—he and his wife had a little boy, and he died at eight months. I went down—I remember going down to the morgue with him to retrieve his baby boy and how we stood there in the morgue and just kind of wept together, as men and brothers.
So, it was in this context where my son is sick. I’m asking myself, now, “Is my little boy going to be next?” We knew that God is good / we know that God is good; but when you are in a situation, where you cannot—
—as one preacher says: “You cannot trace God’s providential hand, and you’ve got to learn to trust His heart in situations like that.” The fact that Sterling was sick, in combination with these big theological questions that we were raising, plus what we had seen happen to our friends—deepened our anxiety.
Dennis: You know, I know what you’re talking about; because Barbara and I ended up being a part of a burial service of granddaughter, Molly, who lived seven days.
Winfred: No; I’m sorry to hear that.
Dennis: You know, when you go through an experience like this—even though it was ten years ago—it marks you—
Winfred: That’s right; it does.
Dennis: —and it takes down some of your defense mechanisms, where all of a sudden, you realize, “You know, there is suffering; and everything doesn’t work out exactly like you’d hope it would.”
Dennis: At that point, worry can become a problem.
Winfred: That’s true.
Dennis: How did you attack the issue of worry in the midst of your son struggling with this disease?
Winfred: Well, prayer is central to the conquests of anxiety and worry in our lives; so we prayed. Again, we had to release Sterling to the Lord. Now, we did what we were supposed to do: we gave him the appropriate meds; we made sure that we kept him hydrated; we carried out our responsibility, understanding, ultimately, only God can restore him.
That’s what we did—we prayed, and we experienced the peace of God in the midst of this situation; and the Lord restored our little boy to health.
Dennis: Did you ever think about putting him on a plane—bringing him back to America at that point?
Winfred: No; that never—it never occurred to us to do that. It just never occurred to us to do it.
Bob: You said prayer is central.
Bob: Philippians 4 says prayer is central.
Bob: When you’re experiencing anxiety, “make your request to God”—is what the Bible says.
Winfred: That’s what it says; yes.
Bob: Why is prayer central; and how does it work, to bring peace to us, to pray?
Winfred: Well, first of all, prayer—you know, we say, “Pray,” but prayer is a battle. I found prayer to be a battle—that there is spiritual opposition to prayer; and then, when—as we pray, the Lord—it seems to me that God is more concerned about stretching my faith muscles than He is about making me comfortable; so I’m going to have to come to God in prayer, and I’m going to have to believe Him. I’m going to have to literally take God at His Word—
—that’s what I’m going to have to do.
I understand this; but the Spirit of God enables us / He empowers us as we cooperate with Him and we let God know what we need. Now, it doesn’t mean we are informing Him—He’s omniscient / He knows all things. What He wants us to do is trust Him and talk to Him about what’s troubling us.
Dennis: What’s been the biggest faith challenge to that spiritual muscle that you’re talking about?—where you had to take a worry—maybe, it was as you were raising those four children through adolescence / maybe, it was a health issue with Stephne—what’s been the number-one issue that you had to take before God and say, “God, I don’t know what You’re up to, but I want to trust You with it”?
Winfred: This is going to seem strange. It’s my own feelings; it’s my own feelings.
In other words, because of the way that I’m wired, I have a tendency to go with my feelings. My feelings are telling me one thing, and God’s Word is telling me something else; so, now, I have a decision to make—whether I’m going to go with my feelings or whether I’m going to go with Scripture.
When I have gone with Scripture, Dennis, I have found—whenever I trust God and take God on His Word, based on Scripture, I have found the peace of God is released in my heart and mind through the ministry of the Spirit of God. That’s been my biggest challenge.
Interestingly enough, I’m 63 years old now; and I think it was when I was in my 50s when God started to wean me off of my feelings so that I learned to take Him at His Word. I want to suggest that that’s one of the big problems in post-Modern / post-Christian culture—
—is this feeling-driven—we are too driven by feelings. We have to stop making these decisions based on how we feel; find out what God’s Word says about any particular issue, and take God at His Word. Then, when we do that, we will experience peace; and that’s a big challenge. That sounds easy, but it is a major spiritual breakthrough in one’s life.
Dennis: You’re a teacher at Moody Bible Institute.
Winfred: That’s correct.
Dennis: Are you seeing this as a malady among college students today / university students, where they are living their lives on their feelings?
Winfred: I think so. I think younger Millennials and some Generation Z kids are more feeling oriented; yes. We have to help them learn how to take God at His Word as opposed to making major life decisions based upon how they feel. I get it—we have emotions—
—but the thing is—it’s the Word first, and I trust God’s Word. Then, this Word-based Spirit—this Word-informed trust—then shapes my feelings and forms my emotions and not vice versa. Otherwise, we get in trouble.
Bob: That’s part of what happens in prayer—is that, as we go to God, and we do what Philippians 4 calls us to do—we make our request to Him—
Bob: —God uses His Word to correct our thinking,—
Bob: —to bring comfort, and to bring peace in a situation.
You experienced some of this around the death of your mother, which was a troubling time for you.
Winfred: It was; it was a very troubling time. She moved up the street, because I was pastoring at Lawndale Community Church at the time; and we got an apartment for my mother right up the street from where Stephne and I lived at the time.
So, now, in the middle of the night, Momma is going into cardiac arrest. We’re getting these calls at 3 o’clock in the morning. I’m jumping out of the bed and running up the street. The EMS wagon is in front of the house. So, they—eventually, they put an implantable defibrillator—that—you know, that little thing they put in your heart to shock the heart to make sure that it can have a normal heart rhythm.
Well, eventually, Mother’s heart gave out; her heart gave out. I was at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, completing my doctoral work. I was in a class—I remember I was in a class with D.A. Carson, and I got a call. Well, I didn’t get a call—one of the administrators came to the class and told me: “Winfred, you need to leave class now. Your mother doesn’t have much time.” I left Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and went to the hospital, which wasn’t too far from the seminary.
Mother looked at me—
—she said: “Winfred, we have to turn the defibrillator off. My heart’s gone. You all have to let me go.” We made the decision—we turned the defibrillator off. All of us are in the room at the time—all of the kids are in the room; one of my sons-in-law, Shane, is in the room. They turn it off. They gave her an injection of morphine to ease her pain, which was inevitably going to come.
Rachel—one of my daughters—starts singing a hymn. Then, Eden, another daughter, started praying; so we started praying and singing hymns. Then, the lethal erythema came up on my mother’s heart monitor; she groaned; I pulled out my Bible, and I read Psalm 23.
Then, Mother flat-lined on the monitor, turned her head to the left, and she was gone. I remember looking down at her and thinking to myself, “Lord, Jesus, if I did not know for sure that You were risen, literally and bodily from among the dead, I would be devastated right now beyond recovery; but I’m so thankful that You’re alive and that my mother is with You.”
The nurse was standing next to me and said, “I have never seen anything like this in my entire life.”
You see, the Spirit of God visited us. We kind of welcomed—we were kind of the sending ceremonial of the team, of sorts, to Momma as she’s being ushered into glory and received on the other side. Even this person, who didn’t know Christ, knew that something extraordinary happened; so the Lord gave me great peace.
Now, I must admit I was not able to watch a death scene on television for about a year after my mother’s passing—I just couldn’t do it—but the Lord gave me grace, and help, and strength. Somebody asked me, a couple of years ago, “Do you ever get over the death of your mother?” I said: “No; but it gets better. God is good; and He gives us grace, and help, and strength.”
Yes; I thank God for her—I really, really do; yes.
Dennis: I think of a man, like you, who has now taught at Moody Bible Institute for—how many years?
Dennis: Seventeen years—trained a lot of students. You’ve also been a vocational pastor at the same time; raised your family there in Chicago—four kids all the way through the teenage years—
Dennis: —to ultimately become parents of nine grandchildren. I’m just sitting here, going, “I’d really like to know how Winfred would answer my favorite question.” Now, you don’t know what my favorite question is—
Winfred: I don’t.
Dennis: —but you’re about to find out.
Dennis: We’re going to find out what your answer is.
Dennis: What would you say is the most courageous thing you’ve ever done in all your life? To give you a little time to think about the answer, courage is not the absence of fear; it is doing your duty in the face of fear.
So, out of everything you’ve done in your life—going to Senegal, West Africa, stepping out in marriage; coming back, giving leadership of a church; teaching at Moody; being a husband; being a daddy—out of everything you’ve done, what’s been the most courageous thing Winfred Neely has ever done? If our listeners are wondering, his forehead is furled. [Laughter]
Winfred: I think jumping in, ten-feet deep, to total commitment, as much as humanly possible, to my wife. That may seem strange, but she told me—
—we were dating at the time—she said, “You know, you’re not letting me into your heart,” because I was afraid of being hurt. I was reminded of that, actually, today—as I was walking, here, into FamilyLife®. I was looking around your wonderful facility here; and I saw a chair that said, “I still do.” That reminded me of that commitment that I have made to my wife, as a man, to let her in and be the wife in my life that God wants her to be.
That was—that took courage for me to do that.
Bob: It was a risk—
Bob: —because to be known is to be vulnerable.
Winfred: Yes; yes. She has been a good steward of it—I must say. I’ve got an incredible wife.
Dennis: She hasn’t used it against you.
Winfred: No, she hasn’t; but Stephne is—my wife is a godly woman; but she’s one of those strong women. I didn’t marry a wimp. One of my colleagues at Moody Bible Institute, Dr. Rosalie de Rosset, met my wife once. She just met her, and then she started laughing; she started laughing—she says, “Oh, Winfred, you met your match in this woman.” [Laughter] She hadn’t known her for one minute and she says, “Oh, Winfred!” I’m at Moody—I’m Dr. Winfred Neely at Moody Bible Institute. Stephne stepped off that elevator; and she said, “Oh, Winfred!” [Laughter]
She was just the woman that I needed.
Dennis: I have a feeling that you have just given some young men / maybe some older men the courage to jump.
Dennis: Marriage represents a huge risk if you make the ultimate commitment, which is “…until death do us part.”
Bob: You say “the courage to jump”—you’re talking about commitment and transparency—being open?
Dennis: Yes, I’m not talking just about getting married; I’m talking about those already married, who haven’t jumped—
Winfred: Yes; that’s right.
Dennis: —who haven’t let their wives into the interior of their lives and let them see you as you are—which is a fallible man, which she already knows, for goodness’ sakes—
Dennis: —but let her in on your insecurities/your fears. She longs to be a partner in life.
Bob: Could be you need to overcome some worry to do that.
Winfred: Yes, anxiety about that commitment; yes. The Bible says, “Be anxious for nothing.” That includes my anxiety about committing to a person that I need to commit—the woman that I need to commit myself to. It includes that too.
Bob: That’s the passage you take on in your book, How to Overcome Worry—the passage that says, “We are to be anxious for nothing”—Philippians, Chapter 4, verses 6 and 7. We’ve got copies of Dr. Neely’s book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can order it from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to order. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” Ask about Dr. Winfred Neely’s book, How to Overcome Worry, when you get in touch with us.
You know, our goal, here, at FamilyLife is to effectively develop godly marriages and families. That’s the ministry that God has called us to; and for more than four decades now, that’s what we have been about—trying to provide practical biblical help and hope for your marriage and for your family. We’re so grateful for those of you who tune in regularly and those of you who get in touch with us and let us know how God has used the ministry of FamilyLife Today in your life. It’s always encouraging to get emails or phone calls from people, who just say, “I just wanted to tell you how God’s used this ministry in my life.” I sometimes wish we could take a whole show and share the stories that we are privileged to hear, regularly, here on FamilyLife Today.
I also want to say, “Thank you,” to those of you who partner with us to make all of this happen. FamilyLife Today would not be reaching as many people as regularly as we are if it weren’t for friends, like, you who—not only listen to this program—but who help support the work—
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If you can help with a donation today, we’d love to say, “Thank you,” and express our gratitude by sending you a copy of Dennis Rainey’s book, Choosing a Life That Matters. It’s about seven key decisions we make that really shape the direction of our lives. It’s a great book for families to read through together; or if you have a son or daughter, who just graduated from high school or college, this would make a great gift to pass on to them. The book is our gift to you when you donate today to support the ministry. You can do that, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; you can call to donate: 1-800-FL-TODAY; or you can mail your donation to FamilyLife Today at PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; and our zip code is 72223.
And we hope you have a great weekend. I hope you and your family are able to worship together in your local church this weekend, and I hope you can join us back on Monday. We’re going to talk about how we, as parents, can begin preparing our children for marriage, even when marriage is a long way off. Josh Mulvihill will be here with us to talk about that, and we hope you can be back 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 next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas; a Cru® Ministry.
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