Years ago, our family lived in a ward where twins were born prematurely. They were both struggling to live, and our ward held a fast to help them pull through, which they ultimately did. They’re happy, healthy kids now.
I remember being in that ward’s fast and testimony meeting after we had learned the twins were coming home from the hospital. The Spirit bore witness to us all that the fasting and prayers of the members of the ward, along with family and friends, contributed to the positive outcome.
As you can guess, my remarks today are focused on the Law of the Fast, and, on the power that comes into our lives by obeying the Law of the Fast.
Since fasting means something different to many, let’s define what we mean in our church when we speak of fasting.
From the church leadership Handbook 2, we read:
A proper fast day observance typically includes abstaining from food and drink for two consecutive meals in a 24-hour period, attending fast and testimony meeting, and giving a generous fast offering to help care for those in need (Handbook 2, 21.1.17).
And Elder Worthlin has taught:
We observe that in the scriptures, fasting almost always is linked with prayer. Without prayer, fasting is not complete fasting; it’s simply going hungry. If we want our fasting to be more than just going without eating, we must lift our hearts, our minds, and our voices in communion with our Heavenly Father. Fasting, coupled with mighty prayer, is powerful. It can fill our minds with the revelations of the Spirit. It can strengthen us against times of temptation (Elder Wirthlin, April 2001 GC).
In other instruction, this time from the New Testament, Jesus counseled in the Sermon on the Mount: “When ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance” (Matt. 6:16). This teaches that we should be sincere when we fast, and we shouldn’t fast just so others can observe us fasting. Also, that it’s a personal matter and not something we flaunt or make into a big deal.
Also from the New Testament, we read the story of Jesus fasting for 40 days and 40 nights (President Hunter, Oct. 1985 GC). President Hunter taught:
I’m not a doctor, but I suspect a mortal human being would find it very difficult to fast for 40 days and 40 nights. This must have been a remarkable time for the Savior, and one where he experienced an incredible closeness with his Father in Heaven and the Spirit.
As His fasting drew to a close, He was tempted by Satan with food, power and glory. He rebuked Satan, then received the ministering of angels, and then went to gather His disciples and build His church.
Fasting brings great spiritual strength (although I’m certainly not advocating a 40 day and night fast).
We’ve been taught that the fast should commence with a sincere prayer, include prayer and pondering during the fast, and end with a prayer prior to breaking the fast.
The Doctrine & Covenants refers to the Kirtland Temple as “a house of prayer,” and “a house of fasting” (D&C 88:119; D&C 95:7, 16; and D&C 109:8, 16). The Lord said:
Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing; and establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God… (D&C 88:119).
How often do we go to the temple as we fast and spend our time there in solemn prayer? Beyond the temple, if you think about it, our meeting houses and our homes should be houses of prayer and fasting. In such an environment, the spirit of God dwells unrestrained.
Fasting also includes a fast offering contribution that should be at least the amount of money we would have spent to eat during that time. Mormon pioneers used to gather on the day of the fast (which wasn’t always a Sunday), bringing all that would have been eaten that day — of flour, meat, butter, fruit, or anything else — and delivering it to the person responsible for distributing the food among the poor and needy (Journal of Discourses, 12:115).
We’re encouraged to give a generous fast offering. As a faith, we’re occasionally asked to contribute fast offerings to help in times of disaster or calamity. The Church operates a remarkable welfare program, supported by members’ and others’ charitable donations.
In support of being charitable, the Book of Mormon teaches:
And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.
Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—
But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.
For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?” (Mosiah 4:16-19).
The blessings that come to us personally as we observe the law of the fast are summarized in Handbook 2:
The Lord has established the law of the fast and fast offerings to bless His people and to provide a way for them to serve those in need (see Isaiah 58:6–12; Malachi 3:8–12). When members fast, they are asked to give to the Church a fast offering at least equal to the value of the food they would have eaten. If possible, they should be generous and give more. Blessings associated with the law of the fast include closeness to the Lord, increased spiritual strength, temporal well-being, greater compassion, and a stronger desire to serve (Handbook 2, 6.1.2).
In addition, Elder Wirthlin has quoted President Marion G. Romney who said:
Be liberal in your giving, that you yourselves may grow. Don’t give just for the benefit of the poor, but give for your own welfare. Give enough so that you can give yourself into the kingdom of God through consecrating of your means and your time.
This sentiment supports the idea of giving generously, even though we recognize we’re still unprofitable servants and after all we do, it’s only through the grace of Christ that we’re accepted by the Father.
Elder Shane Bowen taught that our fasting is an enabler that can help us overcome many of our weaknesses. He said, “Proper and consistent fasting can help us overcome sins, bad habits, and addictions.”
Perhaps that’s what Moroni had in mind when he wrote:
I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them (Ether 12:27).
I think prayer and fasting are implied in Moroni’s injunction to be humble and have faith. In other words, through prayer and fasting, we can turn personal weaknesses into strengths. A simple desire to change may not be enough.
The blessings that come to those we fast for are sometimes the exact blessings we have plead with Heavenly Father about, and sometimes they are different than our petition. But they are always in-line with His will.
Effective fasting and prayer does not need to be a direct fulfillment of your desires, but may also include the quiet peace or other spiritual and physical benefits that come as a result of true fasting.
The blessings that come to those who receive true charity from our fast offerings include the sustaining of life through the provision of goods and services, as well as providing relief from the storms of life.
When my wife and I were considering moving from Henderson, Nevada in 2007 and 2008, we spent about nine months contemplating whether we should move, and if so, to where. We looked at many places and job opportunities, but nothing felt right.
It was in a fast and testimony meeting at church, in August, that we finally understood the path we should take. I remember receiving a confirmation of the Spirit, then looking at Vickey only to hear from her that she had received the same confirmation. We were so grateful to have an answer and a clear path forward. We moved to Utah, where Vickey grew up, just two months later.
Hopefully each of us will develop a desire to increase our own spiritual strength by invoking the power that comes into our lives when we regularly engage in fasting. We learn to rely on the enabling power that comes as a result of sincere prayer and true fasting.
Many of us face tremendous challenges in our lives, both temporal and spiritual. We are constantly challenged to provide for our families and loved ones. Our beliefs are challenged. Our moral fabric is under constant attack. Fasting is like a super miracle supplement – that really works!
Elder Wirthlin taught:
Fasting and prayer can help develop within us courage and confidence. It can strengthen our character and build self-restraint and discipline. Often when we fast, our righteous prayers and petitions have greater power. Testimonies grow. We mature spiritually and emotionally and sanctify our souls. Each time we fast, we gain a little more control over our worldly appetites and passions.
Elder Wirthlin also makes a powerful statement to those of us who worry about the world we live in:
Some look at the overwhelming need in the world and think, ‘What can I do that could possibly make a difference?’ I will tell you plainly one thing you can do. You can live the law of the fast and contribute a generous fast offering.
Miracles are brought about through prayer and fasting. The Savior taught his ancient disciples about the power of prayer and fasting when he responded to their question of why they could not perform a miracle:
And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you. Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting (Matthew 17:20-21).
Fasting is rarely mentioned without the accompaniment of sincere and mighty prayer. It is the combination of these two principles that create the enabling power of the law of the fast. It’s the combination of these two principles that would have allowed the disciples to remove the evil spirit from the child in the example quoted from Matthew above.
By honestly observing a true fast on a regular basis, we better fortify ourselves and enable growth from our life experience rather than the misery that can sometimes come when the storms of life descend upon us.
Fasting need not be a reactive experience when we are faced with a particularly challenging event in our lives. Rather, proactive, proper fasting yields a tangible power that strengthens our very being. It helps us and our fellow travelers to be more successful on our mortal journey.
In summary, it’s important to understand:
- The law of the fast and that it includes prayer and contributing a generous fast offering;
- The blessings that come into our lives and the lives of others as a result of humble fasting and earnest prayer; and
- The increased spiritual strength and enabling power available through consistent obedience to the law of the fast.
As with all commandments, the Lord provides an opportunity for our progress and spiritual growth. Through fasting we discover eternal truths, achieve peace in a tumultuous world and call down the power of heaven to bless our lives and the lives of those around us.
As we face challenges, let’s not forget fasting as part of the solution.
Fasting and Fast Offerings
Elder Shane Bowen – Fasting with Power, April 2009
Elder Carl Pratt – The Blessings of a Proper Fast, October 2004
Elder Joseph Worthlin – The Law of the Fast, April 2001
Elder Howard Hunter – Fast Day, October 1985