I gave a sermon or talk to my church congregation today. And my assigned topic was The Law of the Fast: Fasting and Fast Offerings. I am not awesome about fasting, as I don’t fast during pregnancy and while nursing, for health reasons. This essentially means I go about two years without fasting. But, I have found ways to get around that (and you can too if it applies to you). But, I really wanted to talk about the hard and difficult parts of fasting for each of us. I share with you my talk (unedited, so realize that it is intended to be spoken) – So, answer me this:
What is the hardest part about fasting for you?
What is the hardest part about fasting for you? Is it not eating or drinking for 24 hours? Is it not getting moody and irritable for those same 24 hours? Is it paying a generous fast offering to the church? Or is it growing spiritually? These four parts of fasting are harder for some and easier for others. Some may have a hard time at every part of a fast. Wherever you may fall on the spectrum, I hope you will learn more today about the true law of the fast and how fasting is a gift and opportunity for us to become closer to God and to our fellow man.
I LOVE food. And now that it is fall, and cooler weather is here, I just want to bake yummy goodness all the time. I just want to eat deliciously rich, sugary, sweet desserts and breads and drink hot chocolate. I greatly enjoy eating out so that I can taste and savor every delicious bite and not have to spend time making it or cleaning up afterwards. Food is awesome. And it’s an essential part of our lives. Most of us are not used to going without food for much more than 4 or 5 hours a day. If we do, we generally start to have hunger pains and start to get weaker. And going without water (or that “needed” soda) is even harder. We get thirsty! We need something to quench our throats, especially if our day consists of a lot of talking or singing.
Is the hardest part about fasting for you not eating or drinking for an entire day?
Besides hunger pains, giving up food is sometimes hard because of social reasons – we have a party, dinner appointment, or other social engagement the evening of our fast; it can be hard to resist the food, and awkward to explain why we are not eating. Sometimes fasting’s hard because we’re used to eating at certain times, or because we are bored, or because we have young children who we need to prepare a meal for.
While not fasting is hard to some degree for everyone, it is possible to train our bodies, peers, and habits to adjust. Some studies even suggest that once a month fasting is good for our bodies and health.
I always suggest storing up before you begin your fast. While it won’t last you a full 24 hours, it will help. You can also experiment to see what meals are easier for you to skip. You can try gong from breakfast to breakfast, from lunch to lunch, or from dinner to dinner. I like going from lunch to lunch.
Although our church designates one Sunday a month as “Fast Sunday,” no one checks your bags at the door for food, nor asks if came hungry, or if you are fasting. If you so choose, you can fast on a day other than the designated fast Sunday. If a certain weekday is less busy and physically taxing for you, you might want to fast that day. When you fast is left up you. I’ll tell you later what you can do if physically unable to give up food and drink for 24 hours.
Is the hardest part about fasting for you not getting irritable or moody?
Okay, so, some of you find that you are physically able to give up food for 24 hours. You are able to push aside those hunger pains. That’s not the hardest part of fasting for you. The hardest part for you may be staying happy while fasting. I’ll be the first to admit that I get testy when I’m hungry. It’s the low blood sugar or something.
If you find yourself getting irritable or moody while fasting for two meals, letting everyone and their dog know that you are hungry, on edge, and a general grumpy gus, then you are missing the point of the fast. We shouldn’t parade our “righteous fast” in front of others by complaining about it! The Lord was not pleased with the Pharisees who paraded their fasts by disfiguring their faces. Are we disfiguring our faces when we fast today? Do we make others do things for us, oppressing them, because we’re “too weak from fasting?” Do we complain to God that this is horrible? Do we do as it says in Isaiah Chapter 58: 3-5:
Behold, in the day of your fast ye find pleasure, and exact all your labours (or in other words, inflict travail on others). Behold, ye fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness: ye shall not fast as ye do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high. Is it such a fast that I have chosen? A day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the Lord?
Isaiah chapter 58 is all about the true law of the fast. And that true law of the fast has nothing to do with being mean and unkind to others because we have low blood sugar. The Lord goes on to tell us that:
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 (i.e. you brother or relative)?
Are we trying to be generous, to be forgiving, to lift others’ burdens? Are we helping the poor and needy? That is part of the true law of the fast. The Lord goes on to tell of the promised blessings of an honest, non-oppressive fast:
…Thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy rereward. 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: and the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.
It is hard to control our minds and actions when our bodies are undernourished, but we can, over time, learn to submit our fasts to a higher purpose. That is the point of fasting.
Is the hardest part about fasting for you paying a generous offering?
Okay, but, maybe some of you don’t find giving up food or staying strong and happy during a fast to be difficult. Perhaps for you, it’s paying a generous fast offering.
In our church, we also ask for monthly monetary offerings, called Fast Offerings. The monies collected from these charitable donations go to doing the things the Lord asks us to do while fasting, the same things we covenant when we enter the waters of baptism – to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. The monies collected go to the Bishop’s Storehouse for the sole purpose of assisting individuals and families. Fast offerings do not go to building churches, temples, printing church manuals and pamphlets, general upkeep, and so on. That’s what our tithing monies go toward.
While tithing is a law from God, required for temple admittance, we can view it as a sort of “10% flat tax” for all members of the church. No one is asked to give more or less than 10% of their incomes. It is the same for all. But, offerings are the bonus, the extra, the charitable contribution, and are left up to individuals and families to give as they choose. We are not required to pay fast offerings to enter the temples.
So, why should be pay these offerings? Simply, it is because it helps us keep those baptismal covenants, because they help those in need. Because paying those offerings help us keep the true law of the fast. For privacy reasons, we do not know where our ward’s fast offerings are going. But, they are going to people in need.
The general rule of how much to give as a fast offering is the cost of the two meals you are skipping during your fast. So, if you usually eat spaghetti with marinara sauce and meatballs on Saturday night, and a bowl of cereal with milk on Sunday morning, an offering of $4.50 could be considered a good offering for you.
While any contribution is righteous, it has been advised from the pulpits of General Conference that we should be generous in our offerings to the church. Elder L. Tom Perry said:
I am a firm believer that you cannot give to the Church and to the building up of the kingdom of God and be any poorer financially. I remember a long time ago, over 50 years, when Brother [Melvin J.] Ballard laid his hands on my head and set me apart to go on a mission. He said in that prayer of blessing that a person could not give a crust to the Lord without receiving a loaf in return. That’s been my experience. If the members of the Church would double their fast-offering contributions, the spirituality in the Church would double. We need to keep that in mind and be liberal in our contributions.” (Welfare Agricultural Meeting, 3 Apr. 1971, p. 1.)
I cannot tell you the amount of times my mother has told me about how when times were tough financially for our very large family and they weren’t sure how they would be able to make ends meet, that she would double their fast offerings. And low and behold, things would find a way of working out. I know that the dollars and cents we give up freely, past our required 10% tithe, will be returned to our benefit 100 fold. We need to be generous in our offerings, as much as we can.
Is the hardest part about fasting for you growing spiritually?
Okay, but, maybe, you don’t have a problem going without food or drink, can stay relatively happy while doing so, and even pay a generous fast offering. Maybe, for you, it’s the spiritual aspect of the fast that is the most difficult. Maybe, you don’t understand why you are going through these motions, though they are easy(ish) for you to do.
Did you know that almost all major religions in the world preach fasting? Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam. Muslims dedicate an entire month, called Ramadan, to fasting. Buddhists use fasting and meditation regularly to practice self-control. In Hinduism, there are many dietary laws and restrictions, including regular fasts. Jews fast during Yom Kippur. Catholics have certain rules about what they can and cannot eat during Lent, a forty-day fast leading up to Easter.
If every major world religion practices fasting, including Christianity and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, can there be any doubt that there is a real, and powerful, universally recognized spiritual enlightening that can come through fasting?
Moses fasted forty days in the wilderness before he was given the Ten Commandments and the Law. Jesus Christ himself fasted for forty days immediately following his baptism by John, prior to his public mortal ministry.
Fasting is important. Fasting is one of the finest ways of developing our own discipline, self-control, and self-mastery. Fasts train our spirits to be aligned with God’s. Fasting is essentially teaching us that food and nourishment of the body come second to prayer and nourishment of the soul. All things were created spiritually before they were created physically. We do not fast for God. He gets nothing out of it. Fasting is our petition to God for something or because of something. Fasting is used as a means of repentance, penitence, purification, atonement, concentration enhancement, religious and historical commemorations, humility, and spiritual strength.
It’s been said that fasting without a purpose is just starving yourself. While things can still be gained from starving ourselves for 24 hours, there is much, much more that can be gained if we can get past the physical aspect of our fast. Fasting can foster gratitude in our hearts as we become aware of how much we have compared to those who have not, those who regularly go without two meals in a row. It can humble us as we become physically weak and dependent. It can build our testimony of Jesus Christ, his restored Church, and principles of His gospel. It can give us power. Fasts can give us wisdom, insight, inspiration, motivation, resolve, and rededication, as the Lord answers our questions and our prayers.
I encourage all of us to be more serious about the reasons we are fasting. I hope that we can get past the obligatory and physical motivators of our fasts, that we can view it as something much greater than a check off our “to-do list.” Fasting is one of the greatest gifts, after prayer which we can use to draw ourselves closer to Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.
But, quickly I want to address those who can’t give up food/drink.
There are some people who for various health reasons, like those who have diabetes, are pregnant, or are breastfeeding, who are generally advised not to fast.
Due to pregnancy and then year-long breastfeeding, I found myself unable to give up food and drink as a fast for about two years. It was a long time to not participate in the ward fast. And I wished that I could. I missed the spiritual strength that is gained from fasting.
So, I got creative. I decided I could give up other things. Sometimes I gave up all internet usage for a day, or a few days. I gave up all sweets for a weekend or two. Some other things to be given up are soda, the computer, Facebook, your cell phone, meats, dairy products, sweets, or your tablet computers: something that you use often.
But, sometimes it felt like cheating to give up something lesser, non-essential, for only 24 hours, and counting that as my “fast.” There aren’t many other things in life that are as truly essential to our physical well-being as food. Even with extended “fasting” periods, it still didn’t feel the same.
So, at one point, I stopped thinking about the Fast as something you have to give up, and more as something you can do. I decided that since the fast was designed to draw us closer to Heavenly Father, to help the needy and the poor, and to otherwise better ourselves and our spiritual connections to God, that I could instead devote my “fast” day to doing good things.
Some of these good things included:
- Reading my scriptures for extended periods of time.
- Reading several Ensign articles
- Listening to General Conference talks
- Doing Genealogy and Family History Research
- Writing in my journal
- Praying much more frequently throughout the day
- Visiting someone in the hospital, nursing home, or assisted living care
- Calling my grandparents
- Writing letters to missionaries
- Writing letters or emails to loved ones
- Going out with the missionaries
- Performing community service
- Working in the temple
- And fulfilling my callings, and doing all my visiting teaching
I loved the idea of doing as opposed to giving something up as my fast. The fast of giving and doing felt better, and honestly, much more in line with the true law of the fast. Either way, I am glad that I have found ways to participate in monthly fasts.
No matter where you stand on the spectrum of the law of the fast, no matter what you find difficult or easy, I hope and pray that you will make fasting a real and meaningful part of your life. Fasting has blessed my life and given me the needed spiritual wisdom and insight that I have often needed.
I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.