Hey guys, so in a past episode I briefly mentioned fasting, but we haven’t done a full episode on the subject yet, and it’s an important topic for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, so that’s what we’re going to talk about today!
Alright, so fasting is “The practice of periodic abstinence from food and drink for devotional purposes…” It’s an ancient practice aimed at building spiritual strength. It’s a way to grow closer to God, a way to increase your sense of self-control, and in moderation, it’s also just good for you, physically.
The scriptures, both the Bible and the Book of Mormon, teach that fasting is an important thing. In Luke 4 we read about how Jesus Christ fasted for 40 days before beginning His ministry.
In our faith, the first Sunday of each month is designated as a “fast Sunday.” Members are invited to abstain from food and drink for two consecutive meals, or a period of about 24 hours. So if you start your fast on Saturday night after dinner, then you’d skip breakfast and lunch on Sunday, and the next time you’d eat or drink would be Sunday dinner.
Members are invited to donate to the Church the money they would have spent on those two meals (or however much you’re able and willing to give). We call this donation a “fast offering.” Whether you base that amount on the price of two meals of Kobe beef or a few slices of toast is up to you. Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin taught that “Fast offerings are used for one purpose only: to bless the lives of those in need. Every dollar given to the bishop as a fast offering goes to assist the poor.” Every dollar. It’s not “75% goes to the poor but we’ll keep 25% as a convenience fee,” it’s every dollar. And for more info on how exactly fast offerings are used check out this video and the links in the YouTube description of this video. But this is one way Latter-day Saints strive to fulfill the command given in the scriptures to feed the hungry and clothe the naked.
On fast Sunday at church, instead of the usual sacrament meeting, we have what we call a “fast and testimony” meeting. Instead of listening to prepared messages from the pulpit, the bulk of the meeting is set aside for members of the congregation to come up and share their testimony of Jesus Christ and the gospel.
Now, when you fast, you should do so with a purpose in mind. Similar to prayer, you can fast for whatever you feel you, or someone else needs. And prayer is also an essential part of the process. Most Latter-day Saints at the very least will begin and end their fast with a 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.”
You can fast alone or as part of a group. If someone in your family is going through a hard time, you can rally together and hold a family fast. Sometimes someone in your local congregation might be struggling and the bishop might invite the congregation to join together in a fast.
An attitude of humility while fasting is also important. Fasting is not meant to be an occasion for you to take a hungry-faced selfie for Instagram. Remember the counsel of Christ in Matthew 6:
“… when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.”
The same goes for fast offerings and other donations, like tithing. “Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them … do not sound a trumpet before thee … But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth. …” A lot of Latter-day Saints today make their donations online, but you can also fill out one of these donation slips in our church buildings, and discreetly slip your donation to someone in the bishopric.
So that’s what the Law of the Fast is for Latter-day Saints. Now, questions: Can you only fast on Fast Sunday? No, you can fast whenever you want, but be smart. Don’t overdo it. Do you have to give a fast offering any time you fast? You certainly can and many people do, but ultimately it’s between you and God.
What if you have a health condition that doesn’t allow you to fast? Then don’t fast. My wife has type 1 diabetes: Fasting drops her blood sugar to dangerous levels, so she finds other ways to fast. Elder Malcolm S. Jeppsen reminded us that “Fasting embodies a principle of sacrifice— that of denying oneself something so that he or she can become a more spiritual individual. Perhaps one could sacrifice something other than food or drink in order to accomplish this goal. One might abstain from television, movies, or sleeping in.” So work it out with God and go with whatever you believe is acceptable to Him.
Can you chew gum, or maybe sugar-free gum while you’re fasting? As D&C 58 teaches, “it is not meet that I should command in all things …” So when it comes to this kind of minutia, again, work it out with God and go with whatever you’re comfortable with.
Are fasting and fast offerings mandatory for members? Well, in our scriptures we’re commanded to “continue in prayer and fasting,” so it’s obviously highly encouraged, but it’s voluntary and personal, and you’re not going to get kicked out if you don’t want to do it. Do you still partake of the sacrament, the bread and water representative of Christ, on fast Sunday? Yes, we make an exception for the sacrament, and for many, I’d say the sacrament is never more meaningful than on fast Sunday. That’s fasting, if you want to learn more, check out the resources in the YouTube description of this video, and have a great day!
- “Fasting” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism: https://bit.ly/31JRrzz
- “Fast Offerings” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism: https://bit.ly/3rLZvuv
- “Fast and Testimony Meeting” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism: https://bit.ly/3sLVVBV
- “Fasting and Fast Offerings” (Gospel Topics Essay): https://bit.ly/2iuK8WY
- “Fasting” in Gospel Principles manual: https://bit.ly/3sNVff4
- “The Law of the Fast,” by Joseph B. Wirthlin: https://bit.ly/3cIl4Yy
- A Welfare System that Works: https://bit.ly/2Ok9eYj
- How Church Donations Are Used: https://bit.ly/2qBxJay
- Latter-day Saint Charities Origin Story: https://bit.ly/35A2T0M
- Info on fasts catalyzing LDS Charities: https://bit.ly/2QE9hhJ