In today’s challenging world, many people are hungering for something that can’t be satisfied with mere food. They want their souls filled with the peace only God can bring them. They often have questions that can’t be answered by searching the Internet and so they turn to God, the source of all truth. One way to draw closer to God and to feel His spirit more strongly is by fasting.
Jesus Christ began His ministry with an extended fast. At the end of it, Satan, knowing Jesus was vulnerable in His weakened state, tried to tempt the Lord to sin, but the fast, while weakening Him physically, had strengthened Him spiritually. He was able to resist, making it possible for the atonement to later occur.
Today, Mormons (a nickname for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) continue the Biblical tradition of fasting in order to draw closer to God and find strength, peace, and answers. Once a month, normally the first Sunday of each month, they go without food for twenty-four hours. This actually only equates to missing two meals and the snacks that might be had if the meals are timed correctly. This is a complete fast with nothing at all to eat or drink, but is expected only of those who can safely do so. Children eight and older who have been baptized may fast if they choose, but are not required to and parents are taught not to insist.
During the fast, they devote additional time to prayer and scripture study. If they have questions or especially perplexing problems, they take them to God. Because they are sacrificing, they are better able to hear God’s “voice.”
Then Mormons do something particularly unique. Since they have saved money by not eating or drinking, they donate the saved money to a special fund known as a fast offering. This money is used to help those who are suffering in their own congregation—people who might otherwise be hungry, cold, or homeless. It is a temporary relief of essential needs while the congregation tries to help the person develop the resources needed to again be independent. By being hungry for a day, Mormons are able to keep someone else from being hungry every day. When a congregation doesn’t need all its fast offerings, the money is given to congregations with greater need.
Are we not wealthy if the Lord has blessed us with something we can share with others? To discipline ourselves through fasting brings us in tune with God, and fast day provides an occasion to set aside the temporal so that we might enjoy the higher qualities of the spiritual. As we fast on that day we learn and better understand the needs of those who are less fortunate” (Howard W. Hunter, Fast Day, October 1985 General Conference).
Fasting, then, carries out several Christian commandments and is a powerful part of Christian life. The willingness to give up an essential comfort by fasting and the willingness to care for the poor are both asked of us by the Savior and by God.
Mormons learn that fasting is not just going without food or drink. If we fast but spend our time watching television or playing, we are merely going without food. Instead, we are asked to fast with a purpose. This means to select a goal for our fast. One person might use it to pray for a child who is slipping away from the gospel. Another might focus on a friend who is seriously ill. Yet another might have a question about the gospel and chooses his fast to seek for answers and testimony.
A Mormon fast is accompanied by even more than the usual amount of prayer. Mormons pray each morning and evening individually, as a family, and with their spouses if they are married. They pray at meals and also, of course, pray whenever the need or desire arises. But during a fast, they will try to find additional time for long and meaningful conversations with God. Mormons use very few recited prayers and so their conversations are meant to be two-way conversations. After praying, a Mormon will sit quietly in order to allow the spirit to bring impressions and inspiration into their hearts and minds.
Isaiah outlined the rules of the fast that Mormons observe:
Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?
Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?
Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy rearward.
Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity;
And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday (Isaiah 58:5-10).
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.