Claim Those Exceeding Great and Precious Promises

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Elder Spencer J. CondieDevotional Talk Given at
Brigham Young University–Hawaii

December 7, 2006
Elder Spencer J. Condie
New Zealand/Pacific Island Area President for the Church

In May of 1843, during his sermon on the Apostle Peter's second epistle, the Prophet Joseph Smith concluded that "Peter penned the most sublime language of any of the apostles" (History of the Church 5:392). In that eloquent passage Peter taught the Saints of the Lord's "exceeding great and precious promises" and that by claiming these promises we may become "partakers of the divine nature" and escape the corruption of the world (1 Peter 1:4).

Many promises are proclaimed by His prophets, and the Lord assures us that "my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same" (D&C 1:38). The Lord further affirmed that whatsoever they "shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord and the power of God unto salvation" (D&C 68:4).

In these latter-days, the Lord revealed that "when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated" (D&C 130:20-21). Not only does the Lord make generous promises, He certifies that He will not vary from these promises, for, said He, "I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise" (D&C 82:10).

I would now like to briefly discuss with you some of these exceeding great and precious promises. Countless promises are mentioned in the scriptures, but, in the interest of time, I speak to only twelve precious promises.

1. Though Your Sins May Be As Scarlet
Although we can claim no promise if we are disobedient to the law upon which it is predicated, "all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23), thus, merciful means have been provided for us to become clean so that we may return to Him. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). One of the most comforting of all the divine promises is: "though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool" (Isaiah 1:16-18).

This exceeding great and precious promise is made possible through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and to claim it we must repent of all our wrong doings with a broken heart and a contrite spirit and then the slate can become clean. The Lord has made it clear that the celestial standard is both high and non-negotiable: "For, I, the Lord, cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance; Nevertheless, he that repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven" (D&C 1:31-32; see Ezekiel 18:21-22; Matthew 12:31).

2. Opening the Windows of Heaven
Of all his precious promises, one of the most generous is the assurance to those who pay an honest and full tithe that the Lord will "open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it" (Malachi 3:10).

Because our mortal minds are bound by imagined time constraints, we tend to define blessings as timely pay checks received soon after an act of obedience. With our lives ever so carefully calibrated by daily planners and palm pilots, we rather naturally expect that if we give the bishop our generous check for tithing and other donations, then within the month some wonderful windfall of economic blessings will be showered upon us and we will be able to meet our mounting expenses.

Sometimes the blessings of tithing take the form of learning to become unselfish, removing our itch for more things, and reducing our need to keep up with the Joneses. I assure you those heavenly windows will, indeed, "pour you out a blessing" beyond your fondest dreams when you faithfully pay your tithing.

3. Becoming Unspotted from the World
We live in a world beleaguered by air pollution, water pollution, and many more insidious forms of pollution, including pornography, alcoholism, drug abuse, obscenity and vulgarity in music, movies, magazines and other media. In short, we live in a very toxic environment. Just as kidney patients undergo frequent dialysis to cleanse their blood from impurities, a loving Heavenly Father has provided us with a "divine dialysis" to purify our lives. Said the Lord: "And that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day" (D&C 59:9).

To help set the children of Israel apart from the world, the Lord commanded them: "Verily my Sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the Lord that doth sanctify you" (Exodus 31:13; see also Ezekiel 20:20). When uplifting conversation replaces television on Sunday something wonderful happens within a home. Healing occurs within relationships among family members when strains of the Tabernacle Choir or other sacred music are heard on the Sabbath. Cleansing occurs when family members worship together and renew sacred covenants through partaking of the sacrament. A perceptible process of spiritual detoxification occurs as family members individually and collectively become unspotted from the world. And this precious promise can be claimed weekly.

4. The Words of Christ Will Tell You All Things What Ye Should Do
A loving Heavenly Father has provided the scriptures as our life-script with the counsel to "liken the scriptures" unto ourselves and thus claim the extraordinary promise that when we "feast upon the words of Christ . . . the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do." (1 Nephi 19:23; 2 Nephi 32:3.) I shall illustrate how this precious promise may be fulfilled. Several years ago we had the blessing of accompanying President Gordon B. Hinckley and his wife, Sister Marjorie Hinckley, to a regional conference in Portugal. President Hinckley shared the following story, which I paraphrase:

"I have a friend who is an attorney in Los Angeles. A few years ago he had a secretary with a terrible addiction to tobacco. After twenty years of smoking she had a strong desire to quit, and one day she walked into my friend's office and said: 'I notice you don't smoke.' My friend responded, 'And I notice that you do.'

"Assuming that everyone had faced a smoking problem at one time or another, the secretary asked her employer: 'Is there anything you could recommend that would help me quit smoking?' My friend reached into his desk drawer and retrieved a book with a dark blue cover and golden lettering and handed it to his secretary with the directions: 'Read this, and then you'll quit smoking.' His secretary was effusive in her gratitude: 'Thank you,' she said with a note of desperation.

"The next morning, to my friend's surprise, his secretary stormed into his office obviously very agitated. 'You promised me that if I read that book I would quit smoking,' she began with a voice tinged in irritation. 'I stayed up half the night and read 170 pages, and there wasn't a single reference to smoking.' My friend replied simply, 'Continue reading the book.'

"The second morning his secretary was even more agitated than the day before. 'I have read 330 pages,' she proclaimed in a raised voice, 'and there has not been one single mention of cigarettes or tobacco.' My friend smiled and said, 'Read on.'

"The third morning she was fit to be tied. 'I have nearly completed the book,' she said. 'I have finished 500 pages, and there still has been no mention of tobacco or of smoking of any kind.' My friend benevolently prompted her to 'Finish the book.'

"The fourth morning was different from the previous three mornings. She arrived quietly and somewhat subdued. She knocked gently on his office door and asked her boss if he might have a few minutes to talk. 'Of course,' he replied. Rather haltingly she started to explain what had happened the prior evening. 'I had a very unusual experience last night, and I'm not sure if I can really explain what happened, but I need to speak to someone about it. I finished the book as you encouraged me to do. Toward the end of the book, in the last chapter, I encountered a promise that if I would read the book and pray about it, I would know whether it is true.'

"Well,' she continued, 'I had already lost three nights' sleep, so I thought I had nothing to lose by putting the promise to the test. I knelt down and began a simple prayer, and as I was on my knees a warm feeling started at the top of my head and proceeded throughout my body, and I felt as if I were being cleansed and purified. And this morning when I arose, for the first time in twenty years, I had completely lost a desire to smoke. Thank you, thank you, thank you.'"

President Hinckley concluded the story by saying, "I heard this story from her own lips as she was seated across the dining room table from me in the home of the president of the stake in which she was serving in the Relief Society presidency."

Such is the great cleansing power of the Book of Mormon and of the miracle of forgiveness. And such is a manifestation of the grace of God in conjunction with our own personal exertions in our life-long quest for perfection.

Reading the scriptures invites the companionship of the Spirit, enabling us to claim the comprehensive promise that "by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things" (Moroni 10:5). How extraordinary! And, as if this panoramic promise were not enough, the Lord himself testified: "These words are not of men nor of man, but of me . . . Wherefore, you can testify that you have heard my voice, and know my words" (D&C 18:34-35).

5. Whatsoever Ye Shall Ask, Which Is Right
One can imagine the feelings of the ancient Nephites as the Savior visited them and it became apparent that He would soon leave them. After exhorting them to "watch and pray always lest ye enter into temptation," He gave them this precious promise regarding the power of prayer: "And whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is right, believing that ye shall receive, behold it shall be given unto you" (3 Nephi 18:20). In these latter-days, He renewed that promise: "And if ye are purified and cleansed from all sin, ye shall ask whatsoever you will in the name of Jesus and it shall be done" (D&C 50:29).

Because of his "unwearyingness" in declaring the word of God, Nephi, the son of Helaman, received the Lord's assurance that "all things shall be done unto thee according to thy word, for thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will" (Helaman 10:5). Of course, the Savior's supplication in the Garden of Gethsemane to "remove this cup from me" was also tempered with "not my will, but thine be done" (Luke 22:42). There is a great lesson for all of us: even the Son of God had a prayer answered in the negative, but shortly thereafter He saw the realization of that answer redound as a blessing upon the entire human race forever.

6. I Will Not Leave You Comfortless
Toward the close of His earthly ministry, the Savior promised His disciples: "I will not leave you comfortless: I will come unto you" (John 14:18). He then taught them of the Comforter whom the Father would send to "teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you" (John 14:26). In our extremities, in the depths of despair or uncertainty, the Savior fulfills His promise that we will receive comfort through prayer, solace through reading the scriptures, and consolation through the Comforter who brings us "the peace of God, which passeth all understanding" (Philippians 4:7).

Caring visiting teachers and home teachers, concerned bishops and branch presidents, loving friends and neighbors are also great sources of comfort. But we must humble our hearts to claim the promised blessing of comfort and not become like some who refuse to be comforted (see Genesis 37:35; Jeremiah 31:15; Ether 15:3).

As a youth I was taught that "You may not be able to keep the birds of temptation from landing on the branches of your mind, but you can prevent them from building a nest." I later learned of the Lord's higher standard in which He commands us to "let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly," with the profound promise that the Holy Ghost shall then "be thy constant companion" (D&C 121:45-46). Indeed, He will not leave us comfortless.

In order to enjoy the continual companionship of a member of the Godhead we must nurture virtuous thoughts continually, and this precludes surfing the internet or TV to sample that which is sleazy and unclean. To claim the promise of the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost we must deny ourselves of all ungodliness all the time (Moroni 10:32).

7. Inasmuch As Ye Shall Keep My Commandments, Ye Shall Prosper
Many times throughout the Book of Mormon the Lord's prophets reiterate one particular precious promise in slightly variant forms: "Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper" (1 Nephi 2:20; 4:14; 2 Nephi 1:9; 1:20; 4:4; Jarom 1:9; Omni 1:6; Mosiah 1:7; 2:22; 2:31; Alma 9:13; 36:1; 36:30; 37:13; 38:1; 48:15; 48:25; 50:20; Helaman 3:20; 3 Nephi 5:22). The promise "ye shall prosper" is sometimes misunderstood in some corners of the Kingdom as young married couples impatiently purchase large houses with exorbitant mortgages anticipating that their righteousness will assure future prosperity which will be sufficient to cover their indebtedness resulting from their impatience in acquiring this world's goods.

By contrast, there are many faithful Latter-day Saints who abide by Jacob's wise counsel that "before ye seek for riches seek ye for the kingdom of God. And after ye have obtained hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good, to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted" (Jacob 2:18-19).

Many prosperous Saints of faith and devotion have not let an impatience for accumulating worldly wealth put them at spiritual risk. In most cases, they have not drunk from wells they have not dug, nor harvested fields they have neither plowed nor planted. Theirs have been lives of patient, persistent labor in consistently seeking "first the kingdom of God" and always spending less than they earn so there will always be sufficient to help others in need (Matthew 6:33; see also Mosiah 4:16-28).

8. He That Loseth His Life For My Sake Shall Find It
The Savior promised that those who lose their lives in His service and the service of others will find themselves. President Spencer W. Kimball adroitly explained how this promised blessing comes to fruition. Said he: "When we concern ourselves more with others, there is less time to be concerned with ourselves. In the midst of the miracle of serving, there is the promise of Jesus, that by losing ourselves, we find ourselves (see Matthew 10:39)...the more we serve our fellowmen in appropriate ways, the more substance there is to our souls...Indeed, it is easier to 'find' ourselves because there is so much more of us to find!" ("Small Acts of Service," Ensign, December 1974, p. 2).

9. The Law of the Fast
Through the prophet Isaiah the Lord assures us that fasting serves an important spiritually liberating purpose in loosing "the bands of wickedness" in undoing our "heavy burdens," in letting "the oppressed go free" and in helping us to "break every yoke" (Isaiah 58:6-7). What a marvelous promise to all who have been wrestling with addictions for many years. What a great source of hope to those who have been victims of abuse. What a precious promise of comfort to those who have been struggling to forgive another or to seek forgiveness from another for misdeeds done so long ago. Fasting, coupled with fervent prayer, can purify us from feelings of vengeance, discouragement, despair, covetousness, envy, and hopeless addiction. Fasting can break every yoke. Claim that precious promise.

10. I Honor Those Who Obey
In section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants, as the marvelous vision of the three degrees of glory unfolds, the Lord proclaims some exceeding great and precious promises:

"I, the Lord, am merciful and gracious unto those who fear me, and delight to honor those who serve me in righteousness and in truth unto the end" (D&C 76:5).

Some young elders in the mission field assume that if they work hard and keep the mission rules they will be honored for their service by being called to be the assistant to the mission president or, at the very least, to be a zone leader. But the Lord reminded Isaiah that "my thoughts are not your thoughts," (Isaiah 55:8) and the honor the Lord may wish to bestow upon an obedient missionary may not be a high profile position but rather an opportunity to train new missionaries as they arrive in the mission field. Or, the Lord will honor a young elder or sister missionary or senior couple with the continual companionship of the Spirit and with a special dispensation of power unto the convincing of others of the truths of the gospel (See D&C 11:21).

As a young man in Pocatello, Idaho I have fond memories of elderly Brother Bailey, the custodian of our chapel. He was a humble man with limited education, but he was also a handsome man with a beautiful shock of white hair. It was an honor for Brother Bailey to keep the chapel clean and to associate with righteous members of the Church. As far as I know, he never was called to serve in the bishopric or on the high council, but later in life he was called to serve as a stake missionary. In our training meetings, when President Egbert, our stake mission president, called upon Brother Bailey to bear his testimony, few could hold back the tears as that slender man with a dark tan, gnarled hands and snow white hair would declare with a trembling voice that he knew beyond any doubt that Joseph Smith had truly seen the Father and the Son. One could almost gain the impression Brother Bailey had been in the sacred grove himself and had stood behind one of the trees as Joseph beheld that great vision.

Brother Bailey had acquired no honors of men, certainly no university degrees and no executive leadership positions, but a loving, merciful Heavenly Father had honored him with an unshakeable testimony and the gift of being able to teach by the Spirit. Though he was a bit less organized in his presentation of the restored gospel than other stake missionaries, he trusted in Nephi's promise that "when a man speaketh by the power of the Holy Ghost the power of the Holy Ghost carrieth it into the hearts of the children of men" (2 Nephi 33:1).

Brother Bailey's humility and gentleness, his radiant countenance, his dark flashing eyes often filled with tears and his voice filled with conviction, disarmed his listeners, softened their hearts and opened their ears and their minds to receive the word of the Lord. He was never honored by being called to serve in the stake mission presidency. He didn't need to be. The Lord honored him by listening to his prayers each morning and evening. "Just imagine," he would think to himself, "with billions of people on the earth, Heavenly Father has time to listen to my personal prayers." What an honor!

11. A Continuation of Seeds Forever
One of the greatest blessings that anyone on earth can receive is the blessing of parenthood and of welcoming some of Heavenly Father's spirit children into our homes. When a new baby arrives lightly sprinkled with angel dust, there is a joy and a reverent spirit in the home, for everyone is aware that a short time ago these little infants left their heavenly home.

Our Heavenly Father has given each of us the promise that "if a man marry a wife by my word, which is my law, and by the new and everlasting covenant, and it is sealed unto them by the Holy Spirit of Promise" and they faithfully keep their covenants, they will receive His glory which "shall be a fullness and continuation of the seeds forever and ever" (D&C 132:19).

Modern prophets have also declared that those who do not have an opportunity to claim the blessing of temple marriage in this life, through no fault of their own, shall have an opportunity in the eternities.

12. All That My Father Hath
Because of time constraints we cannot discuss all of the prophetic promises found throughout the scriptures such as the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, the restoration of the gospel and priesthood keys, the establishment of the true Church, the gathering of scattered Israel, and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

One of the greatest of all promises is: "he that receiveth my Father receiveth my Father's kingdom; therefore all that my Father hath shall be given unto him" (D&C 84:38). Though this promise is directed toward those who make and keep the oath and covenant of the priesthood, through the sealing of wives to husbands and children to parents, this extraordinary blessing becomes accessible to all who keep the commandments of the Lord.

Seeing the Promises Afar Off
The First Principle of the Gospel is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. This includes faith that His atonement will cover our sins and faith that we can, through repentance, claim His other promises. Hebrews chapter eleven recounts the faith of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham and Sara, concluding that "These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth" (Hebrews 11:13).

Not all of God's exceeding great and precious promises will be claimed in this mortal sphere. The Lord promised Abram "I will make of thee a great nation" at a time when he and Sarai had no children (see Genesis 12:2, 7). When Abram was 86 years old his wife's handmaiden, Hagar, bore him a son, Ishmael (Genesis 16:16). When Abram was 99 the Lord reaffirmed the previous promise that Abram would "be a father of many nations," and He changed Abram's name to Abraham and Sarai's name to Sarah with the promise that "she shall be a mother of nations" (Genesis 17:4-16). Not long afterward "Sarah conceived, and bare Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him" (Genesis 21:2).

After Abraham passed the great test of his faith in preparing to sacrifice his son Isaac, the Lord promised Abraham: "I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore. And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice" (Genesis 22:17-18). Sarah died in Hebron at the age of 127 (Genesis 23:1-2). Following a long period of mourning, and after Isaac had married Rebekah, Abraham "took a wife, and her name was Keturah. And she bare him Zimran, and Jokshan, and Medan, and Midian, and Ishbak, and Shuah" (Genesis 25:1-2).

When Abraham died he was 175 years old. Although he got a late start in producing progeny, as we read in Hebrews, he had seen the promise from afar off that he would become the father of nations.

The Lord Is Not Slack Concerning His Promises
One thing is certain: God keeps His promises, as numerous prophets have testified. Moses reminded the children of Israel that "the Lord thy God, he is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations" (Deuteronomy 7:9).

Peter testified further that "The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). In this age of one-hour photo-finishing, one-hour dry-cleaning, and one-minute fast food franchises, it may, at times, seem to some of us as though a loving Heavenly Father has misplaced our order, or that His precious promises were put on hold or were filed under the wrong name.

Such were the feelings of Rachel, the wife Jacob. With growing frustration and mounting envy she saw her older sister Leah bear six sons and a daughter while she herself remained barren. One day, in the depths of despair, Rachel cried to Jacob, "Give me children, or else I die." And with the passage of time, "God remembered Rachel" and she was blessed with two sons, Joseph and Benjamin. (Genesis 29-35.) There are millions on earth who are descendants of Joseph.

Inconvenient Blessings
We tend to define blessings as pleasant, happy consequences, such as the birth of a normal, healthy baby. But what of parents whose long awaited baby has spinabifada, or epilepsy, or hydrocephalis? Is a multiple-handicapped child an inconvenient blessing or merely a heart breaking burden?

We have known several parents of children who only survive from day to day because of the hours of special care, love and attention they receive from parents and siblings. And in the process, these family members acquire all the godly attributes described by the Apostle Paul as the fruit of the Spirit: "love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance" (Galatians 5:22-23). The blessing of acquiring the traits of godliness has often been clothed in a trial which eventually leads to victory.

A dear widow in our neighborhood recounted her husband's seventeen long years of suffering with a painful chronic illness. She confessed: "He had to suffer, so I could learn the lessons."

Elder Dallin H. Oaks reminds us that mortality is a thin slice of eternity and "we cannot have true faith in the Lord without also having complete trust in the Lord's will and in the Lord's timing" ("Timing," Ensign, September 2003, p. 12). The Lord's promise is certain: "Search diligently, pray always and be believing and all things shall work together for your good, if ye walk uprightly and remember the covenant wherewith ye have covenanted one with another" (D&C 90:24). May each of us continue patiently striving to claim our Heavenly Father's exceeding great and precious promises with His divine assurance that all things shall work together for our good (Romans 8:28).

I testify with Moroni that "the eternal purposes of the Lord shall roll on until all his promises shall be fulfilled."

I testify to you that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ, that Joseph Smith is the Prophet of the restoration, that we are led by a prophet of God today, even Gordon B. Hinckley, and ask the Lord's blessings to be upon each and every one of you in your daily endeavors, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.