The principle of fasting is an ancient one, which is outlined a good deal in the fifty-eighth chapter of Isaiah and briefly in the third chapter of Malachi. In these scriptures, the Lord defines the law of the fast and lists specific blessings which come from obeying this law. To fast is to go without food or to eat sparingly. For members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (which church is often misnamed the Mormon Church in the media), fasting means to go without food or liquid for a twenty-four-hour period, or to skip two full meals. One Sunday each month—generally the first Sunday—is set aside as a Fast Sunday for all Church members. On this day, all those who wish to participate in the fast do so. The reasons behind this practice are outlined below.
The Lord declares in Isaiah that the purpose of the fast He has declared is to “loose the bands of wickedness,” to “undo the heavy burdens,” and to “let the oppressed go free.” In modern terms, fasting can free one from temptation, can bring solace in trial, and can bring freedom from oppression. One might logically ask how abstaining from food could bring these things. The answer is that fasting is a much more spiritual than temporal experience when practiced properly. Fasting can remind one of one’s physical weakness and consequent dependence on the Lord. By focusing on this dependence, one can draw closer to the Lord and therefore gain spiritual strength.
The law of the fast requires much more than simply going without food, and is fulfilled by dealing one’s bread to the hungry, bringing those who are cast out to one’s own home, and clothing the naked, as Isaiah taught. In practice today, Church members are asked to take the money that would have been spent on their two meals and donate it to the poor within their Church’s congregation. These donations are called fast offerings. Members are asked to be as generous as they can afford to be in their fast offerings and often give more than the two meals would cost. These donations are given to the bishop to be distributed at his discretion to those worthy members who stand in need at that time. Fast offerings are different from tithing, which is a payment of 10 percent of one’s increase to the Church. Tithing funds are all sent to Church headquarters, but fast offerings stay within the bounds of one’s own congregation.
The blessings which come from paying fast offerings are innumerable, but the Lord outlined some specific blessings in the scriptures mentioned above. The Lord has promised that when individuals pay fast offerings, they will be entitled to good health and to the protection of the Lord. In addition, they are promised that they will receive great light and will leave the darkness surrounding them. The Lord even promises to “rebuke the devourer” for those who are faithful in this commandment. All those who have lived this commandment can testify of additional, personalized, blessings which have come to them through their faithfulness.
Fasting and Prayer
In the New Testament, the Savior spoke many times about the power of prayer and fasting. For example, in Matthew 17, the Savior cast out a devil from a man. When his disciples asked why they had been unable to cast out the devil, the Savior told them it could only be done through “prayer and fasting” (Matt. 17:21). This teaching shows the strength that can be given to those who are already righteous, but who seek more strength through God. Fasting can bring many blessings and has more purposes than helping to feed the poor, though that is one of the noblest services which we can provide. Fasting can be both an expression of faith and an increaser of faith. Special fasts are often held for individuals who have physical trials, such as sickness. Individual fasting can bring personal revelation, can help us gain stronger testimonies of the gospel, can give us strength to withstand temptation, and can help us humble ourselves.