Several times over the last few years of Dr. Hyles life I heard him say, “I determined not to be a bitter old man.” Dr. Hyles told of other men who had become bitter as they got older. The battles had scarred them. They saw a younger generation coming in and changing things that didn't need to be changed. He talked of men who in their later years lost their sweetness and he determined not to allow that to happen to him.
At the age of 70 I have fought a lot of battles over these years. In fact I continue to fight battles even today. I fight battles over the old fashioned positions for which I have stood all these years. I even find myself fighting battles for the very survival of the ministry I feel God has called me to do today.
Dr. Hyles was right, if I am not careful I will become bitter and spend my latter years being cranky rather than being a help to others. As I grow older I have carefully studied the later years of Dr. Hyles ministry in hopes of learning the things he did as an older man. Let me share with you some things that I saw him do that I think helped him stay strong in the battle without becoming a bitter and cranky old man.
1. Preach often about the love and grace of God. If you go back and listen to the sermons Dr. Hyles preached in the last years of his life you will find that he often preached about God's goodness and God's love. He made certain that his preaching did not reflect just a fighter’s mentality, but that it reflected a heart of tenderness and love as well. He didn't lose his fight, but he didn't lose his sweetness either.
2. Keep helping people. Dr. Hyles has seen what betrayal can do to men. He chose to ignore the betrayal of people who he had helped and just keep helping more people. Someone once asked Dr. Hyles, “What do you do when your personal converts have turned against you?” He answered, “I just get more converts.” What a great answer.
I have converts who have turned against me. But, I have new converts who I won to Christ this past week. Rather than dwelling on the pain of those who have turned on me, I dwell on the joy of those who recently turned to Christ.
3. Don't take every battle personally. This is important. Dr. Hyles did not allow himself to be the issue even though others often tried to make him the issue. He even tried to stop those of us who loved him from making him the issue. He said, “The issue is the issue. People want to make me the issue because they can’t argue the real issue.” When you allow yourself to be the issue you are dangerously close to becoming bitter and angry.
4. Remember the things that made you sweet before. I love to go back and reflect on the good things. I love to rejoice in what Christ did for me in times when I most desperately needed him. Oh the joy of returning to the places where God did something special in my life.
5. Stay sentimental. I once heard someone say, “Dr. Hyles thank you so much for taking us back to visit the places that were sacred to you.” Dr. Hyles replied, “Thank you for accompanying me to those places. I don’t go just for you to see them. I go to remember what God did for me there.” Sentimentality in moderation can keep you from becoming bitter.
6. Don't stop needing God. Dr. Hyles once said, “I'm glad that I don't have a bunch of millionaires who supplement or subsidize my ministry.” He said, “I have friends who have given a lot of money, but I have always rerouted most of that money to others. I never want to be in a place where I don't need God because I have someone else who is taking care of all my needs.
I want to stay needy because if I stay needy I get to rejoice in God providing. If you've ever been poor you know how wonderful it is when something comes that you weren't expecting and desperately needed. I don't ever want to lose that feeling. What a great truth. I love it that I still desperately need God in my life.
7. Stay in the book. The Bible is not just a manual for sermons we as preachers can easily begin to think. The Bible is the precious love letter from our Heavenly Father about his precious son. Stay in love with the word of God. May it never become merely your manual for ministry but always be a personal way to know your God better.
I get a little cranky at times. Sometimes I even get mean and angry. I would like to think that most of the time it's on purpose, but I want to work at making certain that in my heart I'm still filled with God's love and grace. I don't want to be that bitter and cranky old preacher that Dr. Hyles feared becoming.