And they ... were blessed according to the multitude of the promises which the Lord had made unto them. IV Nephi 1:12
We have seen that finding the promises is an important step in keeping the commandments. So how do we start finding promises? I highly recommend a little game that my Dad and I sometimes played when we first started finding promises: Label three columns on a sheet of paper "Reference, Blessing, Condition". (I like to list the blessing before the condition, because a list of blessings is most useful when trying to locate a promise to try out.) Pick an arbitrary chapter or page in one of the books of scripture and start reading until the next promise is found, and write it down. It usually doesn't take long, and sometimes you will discover a virtual gold mine of nuggets packed into a very small space.
For example, start reading Proverbs, chapter 3.
My son, forget not my law; but let thine heart keep my commandments; For length of days, and long life, and peace, shall they add to thee. Proverbs 3:1,2
What is the blessing? Length of days, long life, and peace. Would you like long life and peace? I would! So what do we need to do to obtain this blessing? The condition is twofold: remember the law, and keep the commandments in your heart. Remembering is done in our heads, but the heart is metaphorically thought of as the seat of emotions and motivations. Instead of just keeping commandments in our head, let us keep the commandments in our hearts, where love is the motive, and we will surely be blessed with peace.
Continuing in Proverbs, we read:
Let not mercy and truth forsake thee; bind them about they neck; write them upon the table of thine heart; So shalt thou find favor and good understanding in the sight of God and man. Proverbs 3:3-4
Have you ever said, "No one understands me! Everyone hates me!" If so, here is a promise for you. The blessing is that both God and man will understand and even favor you. And what is the condition of such a blessing? Always be merciful and truthful.
When I think of showing mercy, I envision the Roman Circus with the gladiators battling to the death. But before delivering the final blow to the vanquished, the victor would look to the Emperor. If his thumbs were up, the victor would show mercy and not deliver the final blow that was rightfully his. Now we don't often have a chance to show mercy in this way, but how many times have we earned the right to say "I told you so," and not done it? That is mercy. How many times have we had the right to talk about a neighbor's injustice and refrained? That is mercy. How many times have we had the right to strike back at a brother or sister, but did not? That is mercy. And what about truth? Is it all right to tell a little white lie, or to stretch the truth a bit for fun? My wife and I made an agreement before we got married that we would always tell each other the truth. When we play games together, we avoid asking questions whose truthful answers (or non-answer) would spoil the fun--but we always tell each other the truth. And we understand each other. Perhaps favor and good understanding aren't blessings that everyone seeks, but if you need them, here is a promise for you.
The next couple of verses in Proverbs are:
Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. Proverbs 3:5,6
Would you like to be blessed with direction from God? If so, here is your promise. The conditions are to trust in God, and acknowledge him in everything you do. A slightly different wording of the same promise is found in the letter of Alma to his son Helaman:
O remember my son, and learn wisdom in thy youth; yea, learn in thy youth to keep the commandments of God; yea, and cry unto God for all thy support; Yea, let all thy doings be unto the Lord, and whithersoever thou goest, let it be in the Lord; yea, let thy thoughts be directed unto the Lord; yea, let the affections of thy heart be placed upon the Lord for ever; counsel the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good. Alma 17:68-69
While we have been advised that we cannot wait to be commanded in everything without being slothful and unwise servants, (DC 58:6c) we can let the Lord know everything that we are about to do. Counsel Him, listen for His advice, and be ready to follow His leading. Then we may step out in assurance that we will have His direction whenever He sees that we need it.
Here is the way that this promise worked in my life. I was ending my year of volunteer missionary work with my father and trying to decide what to do with the rest of my life. We had discovered new ways to work together, and there was a part of me that wanted to continue in the volunteer mode, but another part of me said that I needed to continue my education or get a job so that I could be a more productive member of society. I gave the matter considerable attention and prayer, but I just couldn't seem to see the Lord guiding me definitively either way. I submitted an application to graduate school at Iowa State University in order to meet the deadline for Fall entrance so that my options would stay open. I received a letter of acceptance, and an appointment as a teaching assistant. But I still wanted to know the Lord's will, and did not feel that I had received much direction. I kept reading "Seek ye first to build up the Kingdom of God, and establish His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you." Finally, I made up my mind. I decided to volunteer for a second year. So, I wrote a letter to the head of the mathematics department at Iowa State thanking them for their kind offer, and explained as best I could why I was not accepting the teaching assistantship and would not be coming in the fall. I was in Billings, Montana at the time, and I took the letter to the corner mailbox. I remember holding it for a few seconds halfway into the slot and praying, "Lord, you know that I want to be where you want me to be. Please take care of this letter."
Two days after mailing the letter, I got a phone call from Graceland College. Jim Hawley, from the math department said he understood that I was going to grad school in the fall and asked if I would consider working at Graceland when I finished. Professor Ned Jacobson was retiring, and they wanted to know if I would be interested in the job. I told him that would be a dream come true, but that I had just turned down my opportunity to go to grad school for the next year. The next day, another math professor from Graceland called and suggested that if I still wanted to return to school in the fall, I should call Iowa State. He said that they were always looking for more assistants to teach calculus, and that even if they had given the position to someone else, I could probably pick up a similar job for the second quarter. I made the call. By this time it had been three days since I mailed my letter. I asked Dr. Barnes at Iowa State if my letter had been received. He said no, and informed me that in addition to my assistantship, there was a grant for half my tuition! I told him that I was coming to school and to just tear up the letter if it ever arrived. Then I thanked the Lord for the assurance of His direction.
I got my degree, and then took the math position at Graceland College, where I have remained for the last 18 years. My Dad got other volunteers to work with him for the next year and all the subsequent years until he retired from church appointment. And when times got tough, particularly at grad school, I could thank the Lord because I knew that it was His hand that had brought me there. Had I not acknowledged the Lord, made my own decision, and begun to move, how could I have ever been sure of the Lord's direction? As it happened, his direction came in such a way that I was convinced of it.
But I digress. Back in Proverbs we read:
Be not wise in thine own eyes; fear the Lord, and depart from evil. It shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones. Proverbs 3:7,8
I am not sure exactly what is meant in Hebrew by the phrases "health to thy navel" and "marrow to thy bones." However, I do know that a navel is important when a baby is born, and that bone marrow is essential to good health. I believe that the blessing being promised here has to do with healthy children and health in general. The condition is to fear the Lord (not others) and to depart from evil.
Honour the Lord with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase; So shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine. Proverbs 3:9,10
Do you need a blessing of financial security? The condition, as I paraphrase it, is to give to the Lord before all the bills are paid, and to dedicate all that you do spend on necessary things (your substance) to the Lord.
We have gone through the first 10 verses of one chapter of one book in the Bible, and we have found 5 wonderful promises. There are lots more promises where these came from, even in this same chapter. And the fun is just beginning, for we have more promises than any other Christians--three books full of them! Perhaps you may disagree with some of my thoughts on what is being promised, or how to interpret some of the conditions. That is okay. I believe that these promises come from God, and if you find a blessing that you need, the call is to try out the condition. Prove the promise. See how it works in your life, and hold fast to that which is good.
Now that you can identify a promise when you see one, turn to Jesus' most famous sermon, known as the "Sermon on the Mount." Read Matthew 5:1-14 (1-12), also found in III Nephi 5:47-59, and list the promises. Can you find at least 10? Do it now! Look at the blessings Jesus promised. We can: obtain a remission of sins (not in KJV), inherit the kingdom of heaven, receive comfort, inherit the earth, be filled with the Holy Ghost, obtain mercy, see God, be called the children of God, etc. People have long called this list of promises the beatitudes, meaning the attributes (attitudes) that we should have (be). But this is only because they were focusing on the conditions of the promises and not the blessings! What a difference finding the promises makes.