Mormons fast one Sunday each month for 24 hours and donate the money they would have spent on two meals to the poor. The Sunday is typically called “Fast Sunday,” and is usually the first Sunday of the month. Sacrament Meeting differs on this day. Instead of sermons given by lay members or the leaders of each ward, members of the congregation are encouraged to spontaneously “bear their testimonies,” or share with the congregation their belief in Jesus Christ.
Going without food and drink for a period of time is fasting. Fasting is never complete without prayer, hence the phrase “fasting and prayer” is commonly used in relation to this principle. We are counseled always to align our fast with a spiritual purpose: to improve ourselves in righteousness, to seek a worthy blessing, to express our love and gratitude, to serve our God and our fellowman. The late Apostle Bruce R. McConkie has stated the following:
“Fasting, with prayer as its companion, is designed to increase spirituality; to foster a spirit of devotion and love of God; to increase faith in the hearts of men, thus assuring divine favor; to encourage humility and contrition of soul; to aid in the acquirement of righteousness to teach man his nothingness and dependence upon God; and to hasten those who properly comply with the law of fasting along the path to salvation.
Many specific reasons for fasting are found in the scriptures. It is a general obligation imposed by revelation upon church members in good standing. (Doctrine and Covenants 59:13-14; 88:76; Luke 5:33-35; 2 Corinthians 6:5; 11: 27.) It is itself a form of the true worship of God. (Luke 2:37; Acts 9:9; Alma 45:1; 4 Nephi 12.) It is proper to fast for the sick (2 Samuel 12:16); for special blessings (Mosiah 27:22-23); to gain a testimony that Jesus Christ is our Savior and Redeemer (Alma 5:46); to gain revelation (Alma 17:3; 3 Nephi 27:1; Exodus 34:28; Deuteronomy 9:9, 18); for the conversion of seekers to the truth, (Alma 6:6; 17:9); for guidance in the choice of church officers (Acts 13: 3); as an accompaniment of righteous mourning and sorrow (Alma 28:2-6; 30:2; Helaman 9:10); as a means of sanctifying one’s soul (Helaman 3: 35); and for guidance along the path leading to salvation (Omni 26). Temples are houses of fasting (Doctrine and Covenants 88:119; 95:16; 109:8, 16). To be acceptable, fasting must conform to the Lord’s law and not be done for hypocritical reasons (Matthew 6:16-18; 3 Nephi 13:16-18).” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2d ed. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966], 276.)
THE SCRIPTURES TEACH US
- Alma 5:46—Behold, I say unto you they are made known unto me by the Holy Spirit of God. Behold, I have fasted and prayed many days that I might know these things of myself. And now I do know of myself that they are true; for the Lord God hath made them manifest unto me by his Holy Spirit; and this is the spirit of revelation which is in me.
Great blessings flow from God to the faithful who sincerely practice a prayerful fast, whether it be strengthening, healing, or an increase of understanding. We are to act with faith and bring an offering of sincere fasting and prayer in order to have a more contrite disposition in accordance with heavenly principles.
- Alma 17:3—But this is not all; they had given themselves to much prayer, and fasting; therefore they had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and when they taught, they taught with power and authority of God.
The blessings of the Spirit and the power to teach by that same Spirit come through fasting and prayer (see also Alma 17:9).
- Helaman 3:35—Nevertheless they did fast and pray oft, and did wax stronger and stronger in their humility, and firmer and firmer in the faith of Christ, unto the filling their souls with joy and consolation, yea, even to the purifying and the sanctification of their hearts, which sanctification cometh because of their yielding their hearts unto God.
The blessings of faith and humility, even unto sanctification by the Holy Spirit, come through fasting and prayer.
MODERN PROPHETS SPEAK
The Lord has instituted the fast on a reasonable and intelligent basis, and none of his works are vain or unwise. His law is perfect in this as in other things. Hence, those who can are required to comply thereto; it is a duty from which they cannot escape; but let it be remembered that the observance of the fast day by abstaining twenty-four hours from food and drink is not an absolute rule, it is no iron-clad law to us, but it is left with the people as a matter of conscience, to exercise wisdom and discretion. Many are subject to weakness, others are delicate in health, and others have nursing babies; of such it should not be required to fast. Neither should parents compel their little children to fast. I have known children to cry for something to eat on fast day. In such cases, going without food will do them no good. Instead, they dread the day to come, and in place of hailing it, dislike it; while the compulsion engenders a spirit of rebellion in them, rather than a love for the Lord and their fellows. Better teach them the principle, and let them observe it when they are old enough to choose intelligently, than to so compel them.
But those should fast who can, and all classes among us should be taught to save the meals which they would eat, or their equivalent, for the poor. None are exempt from this; it is required of the Saints, old and young, in every part of the Church. It is no excuse that in some places there are no poor. In such cases the fast donation should be forwarded to the proper authorities for transmission to such stakes of Zion as may stand in need.
So shall we gain favor in the sight of God, and learn the acceptable fast before him.—Improvement Era, Vol. 6, December, 1903, p. 146.
(Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine: Selections from the Sermons and Writings of Joseph F. Smith, compiled by John A. Widtsoe [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1939], 243.)
It is not a burden to refrain from two meals a month and give the value thereof to assist in caring for the poor. It is, rather, a blessing. Not only will physical benefits flow from the observance of this principle, but spiritual values also. Our program of the fast day and the fast offering is so simple and so beautiful that I cannot understand why people everywhere do not take it up. Hearings have recently been held in the Congress of the United States on a proposal to recommend to the president a day of fasting to raise funds for the starving people of Africa. Our own experience last spring was so easy of execution and so tremendously productive that our consecrations have blessed thousands without causing any of us to suffer in the least. (“‘Let Us Move This Work Forward,’” Ensign, November 1985, p. 85.) [This is refering to a special fast instituted by the Church. Fasting members donated the value of their meals, and the single fast day brought in about $6 million for the starving in Africa.]
(Gordon B. Hinckley, Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1997], 217 – 218.)
Mormons try to fast with a spirit of humility, never begrudgingly (see Isaiah 58); fast with a cheerful countenance and not to be seen of men (see Matthew 16:16-18); fast with a purpose.
Some blessings of the Lord require fasting and prayer. We need to do more than merely ask for the blessing (see Matthew 17:21). We need to use wisdom when we fast. There are times, such as when we are under a doctor’s care or experiencing special medical conditions, where fasting would not be wise or prudent. This does not prevent one from fasting in the spiritual sense: “If I could, I would.”
Mormons are encouraged to bear testimony in church on Fast Sunday. As the Spirit directs, they may choose to bear solemn and humble witness of the truth of the gospel during Fast and Testimony meeting and in family gatherings. On our monthly Fast Sunday we use the money or goods that would otherwise have been used for food for the blessing of the poor and needy.
ILLUSTRATIONS FOR OUR TIME
“The Hidden Gem”
On May 17, 1845, nearly a year after the martyrdom of the Joseph and Hyrum, the Twelve issued a general letter to the Church to convey special instructions, stating among things: “Beloved Brethren: Our whole souls bless you; and we are happy in the privilege of communicating to you a few thoughts. Much more would we rejoice were it our privilege to be in your midst the coming Sabbath and tell you all that is in our hearts; but we are pilgrims in a world of sorrow and woe. In our journeyings to proclaim the gospel and bring about salvation to the honest in heart, God is with us and we prosper; though weary, we are not cast down nor discouraged, for we know that victory is with the upright.
“We are happy to hear of the great union and love manifested at your recent fast, which also the Spirit bore witness of to us, and of your liberality towards the poor, and may the abundance which you have so liberally contributed in your penury in dealing your bread to the hungry be the omen of an abundant harvest of the fruits of the earth into your granaries the present and all future seasons.
“Since we commenced our journey we have discovered some letters from Brother Joseph Smith to Bishop Partridge from which we extract the following for your edification and instruction:…
“The Principle of Fasts Defined—Let this be an ensample to all saints, and there will never be any lack for bread: When the poor are starving, let those who have, fast one day and give what they otherwise would have eaten to the bishops for the poor, and every one will abound for a long time; and this is one great and important principle of fasts approved of the Lord. And so long as the saints will all live to this principle with glad hearts and cheerful countenances they will always have an abundance.” (Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 vols., introduction and notes by B. H. Roberts [Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1932-1951], 7: 412-413.)
In discovering and publishing the missing letters from the Prophet, including the choice statement about the law of the fast, the Twelve had retrieved a hidden gem of wisdom for the enrichment of the spiritual life of the Saints. There is a type and an emblem to this discovery, for the law of the fast is itself a means to unearth hidden wisdom and spiritual truth. As we participate in fasting and prayer, we are often blessed to find within ourselves, through the blessings of the Lord, hidden strength and unexpected insight to facilitate our journey through mortal life. The word “fast” itself comes from a Middle English antecedent word meaning “firm” or “fixed.” As we remain firm in the faith, with our eye “fixed” upon the goal of spiritual perfection, our fasting and prayer will edify our natures and lift us higher toward our quest for perfection as servants of God. (Richard J. Allen)
MORE THOUGHTS ON FASTING
“I believe that the Lord will hear our earnest supplications, if we will back up our fasting and prayers with goodness in our lives.”—Gordon B. Hinckley (“Forget Yourself,” BYU Devotional Speeches of the Year, March 6, 1977, p. 43; Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1997], 217-218).
- “To compel fasting in anyone (such as by turning off the water in meetinghouse drinking fountains on fast Sunday) is not only denying free agency to all concerned, but it may also deny water to those who may, for medical reasons, require water during this time.” —Lindsay R. Curtis, M.D. (“Questions and Answers,” New Era, April 1977).
- “Generous fast offering develops unselfishness. We wish to remind all the Saints of the blessings that come from observing the regular fast and contributing as generous a fast offering as we can…. This principle of promise, when lived in the spirit thereof, greatly blesses both giver and receiver. Upon practicing the law of the fast, one finds a personal wellspring of power to overcome self-indulgence and selfishness.” —Spencer W. Kimball (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, edited by Edward L. Kimball [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982], 145).
FASTING FOR INDIVIDUAL HELP
Fasting makes prayer more effective and invites the Holy Ghost’s presence. Mormons fast when they have tough questions, serious decisions to make, or for loved ones. Extended families hold special fasts when a family member is ill or needs special help. As mentioned above, the Church can call for a special fast, as when the entire Church membership fasted and donated the monetary value of the skipped meals to the starving populations of Africa.
“Fast Day,” by President Howard W. Hunter.
This article was adapted from What We Need to Know and Do, by Ed Pinegar and Richard J. Allen.