That Thy Joy May Be Full

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When Jesus Christ appeared to the Nephites He first reassured them; like many when confronted with a heavenly being, those gathered at the temple were afraid when the Savior appeared. I’m not sure why fear is the typical response; maybe people reflect on their sins and unworthiness in the presence of angels and fear destruction. Maybe it’s just the shock of someone appearing out of nowhere. Whatever the reason, Jesus first told the people to calm their fears. He visited as the merciful Savior to calm, teach, and heal. Jesus next invited all to come feel the marks of His crucifixion as a physical witness His triumph over sin and death. Third, He called and set apart twelve disciples, giving them the priesthood. After He established the core church organization He taught the basic doctrines of the church – mirroring the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus first gave the pattern of prayer then spoke of fasting, “Moreover, 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 thy head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father, who is in secret; and thy Father, who seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.” (3 Nephi 13:16-18)

Fasting is of such importance that it was one of the first truths Jesus taught. Do we similarly make fasting a central part of our lives? Just as Jesus taught the pattern of prayer and then fasting, is fasting yoked with prayer in our lives? Fasting without focused prayer is just going hungry. It might have physical health benefits but fasting without prayer has limited spiritual health benefits. God will acknowledge our sacrifice without prayer but prayer combined with fasting is an opportunity for us to show our dedication to Heavenly Father. He in turn will bless us.

The first Sunday of every month is designated a day of fasting in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Church members who are able are asked to fast for at least two meals. They are also asked to donate to the church the money they would have spent on the meals; more generous donations are encouraged. This is not a commandment, no church member is required to either fast or pay a fast offering, it is simply encouraged. Of those who are able, most pay much more than the cost of two meals. 100% of this money goes to help those in need, first in the immediate ward or branch and then more broadly from there if there is excess. All overhead for these fast offerings (and that overhead is very small) is paid by tithing; this means that 100% of fast offering money goes to help those in need.

Isaiah wrote of the relationship between fasting and helping those in need: “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?” (Isaiah 58:6-7).

As we fast, our bonds of sin, our heavy burdens can be broken. We should also fast to help others. I’ll add that if we are not helping others, we are not fasting as fully as we might. We also need to fast in the right spirit. Isaiah criticizes those who “fast for strife and debate.” (Isa. 58:4) In other words, those who fast for the wrong reasons often are irritable and short-tempered, what some call being “hangry”. If we do not fast with sincere purpose, we are just starving ourselves with little benefit. When we fast for the wrong reasons, we are more likely to “exact all [our] labours” (Isa. 58:3), as Isaiah said; in other words, we make sure others know we are suffering and take it out on them. This is what the Savior taught about on His sermon on the mount (and to the Nephites after His resurrection). Jesus said, “Moreover 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 thy head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father, who is in secret; and thy Father, who seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.” (Matt. 6:16-18).

There are many promises associated with fasting. I think it’s interesting to look at the etymology of the word fast. It comes from a similar-sounding Old English word. This Old English word also formed the roots of other words that we still use today. For example, steadfast and fasten. By looking at how these other words are used in the scriptures we can learn more about promises that come to us through fasting in faithfulness.

Lehi spoke unto his son Lemuel saying, “O that thou mightest be like unto this valley, firm and steadfast, and immovable in keeping the commandments of the Lord!” (1 Ne. 2:10). Lemuel was urged to be steadfast – to be firmly rooted in the gospel and to never waver in keeping the commandments of the Lord. Elsewhere, the prophets have commanded people to be “steadfast and immovable, always abounding in good works, that Christ, the Lord God Omnipotent, may seal you his” (Mos. 5:15). When we fast, we subject the desires of the flesh unto the needs of the spirit. When we fast we follow God’s commandment; we are proving ourselves steadfast and immovable and as such, through the Atonement of Christ, will be sealed to our Heavenly Father. We will be sealed for time and all eternity to our Eternal Father. His name will be fastened upon us.

To fasten something is to bind together, such as fastening two pieces of wood together with screws or ropes. Those things that are bound together become one. However, over time if care is not taken or if the fastener is weakened, what was fastened together might slip apart. The bond might break. We must always be mindful of our fastening to God and keep it strong. This bond to God makes us free. Captain Moroni, that great champion for freedom, made a banner out of his coat and “fastened it upon the end of a pole” (Alma 46:12) that he might be able to travel from city to city, waving the flag of freedom, rallying the believers of God to fight for their God, their families, and their homes. He wanted them to hold fast to the words of the prophets and to their God. As we respond to Captain Moroni’s call today and hold fast to our God, our families, and our homes, we will be sealed together with our Father.

When we fast, we sacrifice so that we might be able to become steadfast in our faith, becoming one with our God, to be fastened together with Him and Jesus Christ.

Fasting is an opportunity for us to faithfully sacrifice eating and drinking and pray for special needs for us or others. Fasting is an opportunity for God to bless us and others. Those blessings might not always be what we want.

Forgive me for sharing a personal experience. I share this because I think it will resonate with some of you; it might even be encouraging.

I set a goal when I was younger to get a specific job when I was all done with school. After years of graduate school, almost 15 years after setting that goal, I was finally in a place where I could apply for that desired job. I prayed and fasted for months that I could get the job. My parents, siblings and their families, and some friends prayed and fasted for me. With all those prayers and all that faith offered on my behalf, what happened? I didn’t get the job. I didn’t reach the goal set nearly 15 years before. Why weren’t my prayers and fasts answered? Why weren’t the prayers and fasting of others on my behalf answered?

First, they were answered but the answer was “No” or maybe “Not right now.” Second, I probably wasn’t asking for the right thing. My goal was good but it turns out that it wasn’t the job I was meant to have. I’ve found that I’m not always very good at wanting what Heavenly Father wants for me. Isn’t that one of the main tests of life? Learning to give up what we want when it isn’t what our Father wants for us? Our ultimate sacrifice – that’s what fasting is about is sacrifice; the law of the fast is part of the law of sacrifice. So our ultimate sacrifice is submitting our wills to the Father’s. We can, just as Jesus did, ask for another way but ultimately we need to submit our wills to the will of our Father. He knows what will bring us greatest happiness. He knows where we need to be and what we need to do.

So what do we do when we work towards something only to have the goal frustrated? We trust in God and accept His will. My parents have always encouraged my siblings and me to be the best we could wherever we were. A favorite saying was (and still is): “Bloom where you are planted.” I urge you to do the same.

I don’t have an answer yet about what job Heavenly Father wants me to have but opportunities are in sight; they just might be better than what I didn’t get. This is one of the messages I felt strongly that at least one of you needed to hear today. When we don’t receive what we want, when it seems as if our prayers and fasts have not been answered, it is important to keep trusting God. He has something better in store for you. The words of C. S. Lewis are appropriate here:

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace.” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Touchstone, 1996), p. 176)

You might want a cottage, God wants to give you a castle. You might want to be an angel, God wants you to be something more…someone more. Fasting is one of the methods by which our Father in Heaven helps us become who we are meant to become. One of the things God wants us to become is radiantly joyful. It might be a difficult path to that joy.

One such difficult path was shared on the Church’s Instagram feed on Wednesday, June 22, 2016. Some of you might have seen what was shared about a young woman named Katia:

“In the last few years, the following occurred: a tumbling accident left me in a wheelchair for more than half a year; my dad almost died from a brain hemorrhage (and lost his job a couple of times); my mother underwent a complicated surgery; I had to have a tumor removed; and my brother had to return home early from his mission because of health problems. It was a lot for our family to deal with. In the midst of all of this, my younger sister was struggling through an intense battle with depression that was scary and confusing for all of us. There was one point when I kind of just broke down. My parents taught me to never question why you are going through something, and instead to remember that God has a plan. But I guess it was the timing that got to me. I was just afraid of how much longer it would be like this. I can remember kneeling on the floor crying one evening in our living room. At one point, I looked up and I saw a picture of Christ on the wall. And I just felt at peace at that moment. I just had this feeling that I was meant to go through all of these difficulties. I knew it wasn’t going to be over soon, but I also knew there was a purpose in it all. I felt that God was preparing me to help others in the future—that I could be a light and example through my experiences. I knew I was going to be able to help somebody else at some point.” (https://www.instagram.com/p/BG9M_R7DyBT/?taken-by=ldschurch)

We can continue to have faith through trials. Fasting, even if it doesn’t result in what we ask for, will build faith. Eventually we will receive all that our Father can give as we press forward in faith, relying on the grace of Christ. Though fasting might be a trial now, ultimately, as we learn from restored scripture, fasting is about joy. In the Doctrine and Covenants we read: “And on this day [Sunday] thou shalt do none other thing, only let thy food be prepared with singleness of heart that thy fasting may be perfect, or, in other words, that thy joy may be full.” (D&C 59:13; emphasis added). When our fasting is perfect, our joy is full. Fasting is a means to bring joy to our lives. We make a small sacrifice of hunger. God in turn satiates our hunger and fills our emptiness with more than we gave.

Fasting in accordance with the law of sacrifice allows us to show love and devotion to God. God in turn showers forth love and blessings upon us.

Another part of the law of sacrifice is the law of tithing.

I remember being a full time missionary teaching the commandment of tithing. It was always challenging for me to testify of the blessings I had seen in my life from paying tithing. I grew up with the example of my parents who always paid tithing. Paying tithing was never a challenge for me but at 19 and 20 years old I was not in the same place in life as most of those I taught. I taught mostly middle age individuals who were working and supporting a family. That’s one reason I loved having members there to help teach the law of tithing. They could usually give more examples of the blessings they saw from paying tithing. An investigator or new convert being asked to donate 10% of their income was usually a significant challenge – that can be true for many of us, recent convert or not. On the surface tithing seems like a 10% pay cut. A convert joins the church and suddenly gets to live on 10% less income from before. I know some of you struggle with this. If you’re in school, funds can vary between slim and nonexistent. If you’re working full-time or part-time or not at all, funds can also vary between slim and nonexistent. God loves us and does not enjoy watching us struggle. So why does He require us to pay tithing?

There is not a single answer to that question and I’m not going to answer it. Instead, I want to share some blessings…I’ve seen in my life as I’ve paid tithing – most of these became clear after years of paying tithing. Isn’t that how the gospel usually works? We have to put forth the faith first, sometimes for years, before we are blessed.

[Two stories were removed to protect confidence in this setting].

I’ve seen tremendous blessings from paying tithing. Providing for a growing family on a graduate student income was a great lesson in budgeting and faith. Even though funds were severely restricted, we never ran out of money. We never had to do without the necessities of life. Another blessing was discovered when my wife and I looked back and realized we had very few medical costs for years. We worked on remaining healthy but we saw that the Lord blessed our family with good health. That is a blessing we both know was partially due to paying tithing and fast offerings. After all, the Lord promised us through Isaiah that if we fast (and, I might add pay tithing): “[our] health shall spring forth speedily” (Isaiah 58:8).

Being generous with tithing and offerings has other benefits.

Arthur C. Brooks ran a study looking at the relationship between charitable behaviors and  prosperity. He explained his findings at a BYU Forum address: “when people get richer, they tend to give more money away. But I also came up with the following counterintuitive finding: When people give more money away, they tend to prosper.

“Specifically, here’s what I found. If you have two families that are exactly identical—in other words, same religion, same race, same number of kids, same town, same level of education, and everything’s the same—except that one family gives a hundred dollars more to charity than the second family, then the giving family will earn on average $375 more in income than the nongiving family—and that’s statistically attributable to the gift…. [Other studies have found that] givers are healthier, happier, and richer in this country—and probably around the world. It gives us stronger communities; indeed, it gives us a more prosperous nation.”

Arthur Brooks went on: “As Christian people we are taught that giving is important to help others. I’m telling you that the data say giving helps you, so if you want to help others, don’t just give to them—think about what you can do today to help somebody else to give. The main beneficiary of a charitable gift is the giver.”

As we give we receive. I’m not encouraging paying tithing or giving fast offerings for selfish reasons but it is important to recognize and thank our Eternal Father for the blessings he gives us for paying tithing and other offerings. In Malachi we read: “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.” (Malachi 3:10). When God pours out those blessings on us – and those with eyes to see will recognize the blessings – we need to thank Him for them.

Brothers and sisters, the Lord gave us the law of sacrifice, of which tithing and fasting are a part, to help us be better. They are opportunities for us to be more Christ-like and serve others. They are opportunities for God to richly bless us as we faithfully offer up our sacrifices to Him. May God bless each of you through your tithes, fasts, and offerings!

Path to the Temple

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At the start of the His ministry, Jesus went out to the desert to fast. He spent 40 days fasting. After He finished His fast “he…hungered” (Luke 4:2). I would have been hungry before the end of the 40 day fasting period, but that’s just me. After His fast, the Savior had an interesting experience with Satan. It’s interesting not so much because of Satan’s intrusions but rather because of what Jesus experienced in spite of Satan.

At the end of His fast, while Jesus was still in the desert, Satan tempted the Him to turn stones into bread. He who created the earth, turned water to wine, and walked upon water could have turned stone to bread. Doing so would not have been a sin. What He did not do – what would have been a sin – is follow Satan’s command. After the desert, Jesus went up to a high mountain. There He was again assailed by Satan, who this time wanted Jesus to worship him. Lastly, Jesus went to the temple in Jerusalem. There Satan tried again to tempt Him, this time quoting scripture. Jesus again cast Satan aside.

The progression of these three experiences and locations is interesting. In the first, Jesus wandered in the desert, much like the children of Israel being led by Moses out of Egypt. They searched for the promised land, a land where they could grow and prosper and build a temple. The children of Israel wandered for 40 years in similitude of the Savior’s 40 days.

In the second experience, Jesus went on top of a high mountain, as Moses did to speak with the Lord. There, like the Savior, Moses was confronted by Satan (see Moses 1:12-16) who commanded him to worship him. Moses cast Satan away, just as Jesus did.

Then in the third experience, Jesus traveled to the pinnacle of the temple, an elevated place upon that elevating building. After His visit to the temple Jesus “returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee: and there went out a fame of him through all the region roundabout.” (Luke 4:14). Jesus was endowed from on high and began His ministry in earnest and with great power that others now saw and recognized (see Luke 4:15). It is not coincidence that the Savior visited the temple before He started His ministry.

This progression of wandering in the desert, communing with God on the mountain, and gaining great power at the temple is the path we must all take – it is the path from natural man or woman to sanctified man or woman. This path also can be viewed as a priesthood path (I’m not saying this is what Jesus experienced it just mirrors the progression of and through the priesthood). Prior to these experiences, Christ was baptized (Luke 3); then He wandered in the desert like the children of Israel (Aaronic/Levitical priesthood); next He went to the mountain top like many of the prophets of old (Melchizedek priesthood); and lastly, He went to the temple (endowment). Satan, of course, tried to stop Him in this process, but was unsuccessful. Do we respond like the Savior and cast Satan aside when he tries to tempt us to leave to path of salvation? Do we get turned aside by baubles or false idols, or do we follow the Savior to the temple?

Fasting With a Purpose

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Today we had Fast Sunday instead of the first Sunday of April because of General Conference. While I always fast with a purpose and with prayer, today I had a special reason for fasting. While I am always hungry while fasting, I only occasionally feel acutely hungry. Each time I had a hunger pang and pain, I took that opportunity to consecrate my sacrifice unto the Lord on behalf of the individual for whom I was fasting. That was something new for me – instead of just looking at the aggregate of the fast, I used the acute difficulties of fasting as reminders of the reason for which I was fasting and as reminders to say a prayer.

I have fasted with intensity, desire, and dedication before but this was the first time I really latched onto each pang as purposeful. I know I’m probably just slow in my realization but I felt this was a more meaningful method of consecration of my sacrifice. That is what fasting is all about – fasting is not about starvation, it is about consecration. We consecrate ourselves and some of our means to God. I always feel closer to the Spirit when I fast, today was particularly meaningful because of the circumstances.

Helping Those in Need

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I read a story on CNN.com about a pastor at the Cross Timbers Community Church in Texas who told his congregation that as the offering plate went around, the members should feel free to take some money if they needed it. The church had a recent decline in offerings given purportedly due to the weak economy. Because of this, the pastor decided to allow his congregation to take money if they needed it; he figured some probably needed the help. I thought it was a nice story about people giving even in their need. It is nice to read about others caring for the welfare of their neighbors, just like the Savior asked us to do.

What is interesting is that this is viewed as such a novel idea! One church member said: “You don’t hear about a church giving money away.” I think it is a sad commentary on many churches, or at least on people’s perceptions of churches, if a church giving money away is a rare occurrence. I do not know if that is true or not but for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a church giving money to others is nothing new.

One Sunday in every month (typically the 1st) is designated a day of fasting. Church members fast for at least two meals and are encouraged to donate at a minimum the money they “saved” on the meals to the church. This is not a requirement, no church member is required to pay a fast offering, it is simply encouraged. Of those who are able, most pay much more than the cost of two meals. 100% of this money goes to help those in need, first in the ward or branch (the smallest, local congregation), then in the stake or district (a collection of wards or branches), then in the broader church (although it might still stay in the general area – e.g., southeastern United States – first). The LDS Church has a lay ministry, which leads to a fairly small overhead (although the upkeep on LDS Church buildings is not “small” but the Church does not pay salaries to any of the local leaders). All overhead for these fast offerings (which overhead is quite small) is paid by tithing; this means that 100% of fast offering money goes to help those in need.

Isaiah wrote of the relationship between fasting and helping those in need: “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?” (Isaiah 58:6-7).

Separate from but related to this, the LDS Church has a large Humanitarian Services program that provides aid to those in need around the world. Tithing also pays overhead for this program, meaning that all money donated to LDS Humanitarian Services goes to help those in need.

Here’s an example of the LDS Church’s Humanitarian Services.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W-ZrO-QUTaM]

Here are a few statistics about the LDS Church’s Humanitarian Services (these do not include tithing or fast offerings).


Humanitarian assistance rendered (1985–2008)

Cash donations $282.3 million
Value of material assistance $833.6 million
Countries served 167
Food 61,308 tons
Medical supplies 12,829 tons
Clothing 84,681 tons
Educational supplies 5,965 tons
Hygiene, newborn, and school kits 8.6 million

While the amount donated is impressive, what’s important is that members of the LDS Church collectively and individually try to live the teachings of the Savior and honor His call to take care of our neighbors, wherever in the world they might live.

Fasting and Prayer, Part 7

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There are many promises associated with fasting. I think it’s interesting to look at the etymology of the word fast. It comes from a similar-sounding Old English word. This Old English word also formed the roots of other words that we still use today. For example, steadfast and fasten. By looking at how these other words are used in the scriptures we can learn more about promises that come to us through faithfulness and fasting.

Lehi spoke unto his son Lemuel saying, “O that thou mightest be like unto this valley, firm and steadfast, and immovable in keeping the commandments of the Lord!” (1 Ne. 2:10). Lemuel was urged to be steadfast – to be firmly rooted in the gospel and to never waver in keeping the commandments of the Lord. Elsewhere, the prophets have commanded people to be “steadfast and immovable, always abounding in good works, that Christ, the Lord God Omnipotent, may seal you his” (Mos. 5:15). When we fast, we subject the desires of the flesh unto the needs of the spirit. When we fast we follow God’s commandment; we are proving ourselves steadfast and immovable and as such, through the Atonement of Christ, will be sealed to our Heavenly Father. We will be sealed for time and all eternity to our Eternal Father. His name will be fastened upon us.

To fasten something is to bind together, such as fastening two pieces of wood together with screws or ropes. Those things that are bound together become one. However, over time if care is not taken or if the fastener is weak, those that were fastened together may slip apart and weaken. Captain Moroni, that great champion for freedom, made a banner out of his coat and “fastened it upon the end of a pole” (Alma 46:12) that he might be able to travel from city to city, waving the flag of freedom, rallying the believers of God to fight for their God, their families, and their homes. He wanted them to hold fast to the words of the prophets and to their God. As we respond to Captain Moroni’s call today and hold fast to our God, our families, and our homes, we will be sealed together with our Father.

When we fast, we sacrifice so that we might be able to become steadfast in our faith, becoming one with our God, to be fastened together with Him and Jesus Christ.

I close with the scripture that is the theme of this blog: “Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing; and establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God” (D&C; 88:119). As we establish our homes on the foundation of prayer, faith, and fasting, we will continue to grow in unity with the Savior and our Eternal Father.

Fasting and Prayer, Part 6

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“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.” Growing up in the desert, I gained a strong appreciation for water. Whether it was conserving water at home or making sure we had enough for water while camping or backpacking, I learned how vital water, especially clean water, is for life. I am ever grateful to the Savior who demonstrated His power over water numerous times. He gave unto Moses power to purify water and to cause it to flow from a rock, quenching the thirst of the weary children of Israel. The Savior demonstrated the importance of baptism by water. He turned water to wine and calmed raging storms. He walked upon the water. The Savior shed tears for friends as well as in Gethsemane and upon the cross. I am grateful unto Him, who is the source of all pure water; He is the fountain of living water. He promises that we too, can be like a spring of water whose waters fail not. We, as we forsake water for a time during our fast, will become like watered gardens. These promises are more than just physical promises – they are spiritual. We will be well-watered, even though much of the rest of the world is in drought. We will have access to a well-spring that never fails, even the Lord Jesus Christ.

“And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in.” These last series of promises are all connected. The blessings of fasting and faithfulness extend beyond ourselves to bless the lives of our children. They in turn can bless our lives; they can build up the waste places. The hearts of the children will turn to the fathers. By our faithfulness, we are strengthening the foundation of many generations. We can be the one who forges a strong link between generations. We can repair the breach in the wall and rally others to our side with the words of Shakespeare: “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more” (Shakespeare, Henry V, Act 3, Scene 1, line 1).

Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley spoke of this responsibility, this need to be faithful and not be a weak link.

In that sacred and hallowed house [the temple] there passed through my mind a sense of the tremendous obligation that was mine to pass on all that I had received as an inheritance from my forebears to the generations who have now come after me.

I thought of an experience I had long, long ago. In the summer we lived on a farm. We had a little old tractor. There was a dead tree I wished to pull. I fastened one end of a chain to the tractor and the other end to the tree. As the tractor began to move, the tree shook a little, and then the chain broke.

I looked at that broken link and wondered how it could have given way. I went to the hardware store and bought a repair link. I put it together again, but it was an awkward and ugly connection. The chain was never, never the same.

As I sat in the celestial room of the temple pondering these things, I said to myself, “Never permit yourself to become a weak link in the chain of your generations.” It is so important that we pass on without a blemish our inheritance of body and brain and, if you please, faith and virtue untarnished to the generations who will come after us. (Keep the Chain Unbroken, Hinckley, 1999).

If we are faithful, our generations will praise us as ones who kept the faith, who restored the paths and rebuilt the breached wall.

Fasting and Prayer, Part 5

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Next we come to some more conditions to the blessings. “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….” When we fast we should treat others well. We shouldn’t burden them down or deride them and point fingers or be lifted up in pride and vanity. We need to share of our substance with the needy and hungry. We need to “satisfy the afflicted soul” physically, spiritually, and emotionally.

If we meet these conditions, we are promised: “Then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday.” God is Light. The Savior is the Light of the World. We, too, can be filled with this light. The Savior taught, “If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world. But if a man walk in the night, he stumbleth, because there is no light in him” (John 11:9-10). When we fast and help others, we walk in daylight, in the light of the Son. With this light, with the light that surely will be inside us as we follow the Savior, we can help guide others.

Brightly beams our Father’s mercy
From his lighthouse evermore,
But to us he gives the keeping
Of the lights along the shore.
Let the lower lights be burning;
Send a gleam across the wave.
Some poor fainting, struggling seaman
You may rescue, you may save. [Hymns, 1985, no. 335]

“And the Lord shall guide thee continually.” He will be there as a pillar of fire or a cloud of shadow, just as He was for the children of Israel in the wilderness. The Lord will be our Liahona, our compass pointing the way to the Promised Land.

Fasting and Prayer, Part 4

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“Thy righteousness shall go before thee.” What does this mean? I believe that this is related to the first promise, that the light of the Lord will be with us. His light will shine in our countenances. People, at some level, are aware of the light in a person’s countenance. Some people are particularly radiant. Their good works, their righteousness goes before them. The Savior is a good example of this. He could not go anywhere without people coming to see Him, usually to be healed. His works were known throughout Israel. People will know and hear of our goodness, our righteousness, before they meet us, if we follow the teachings and commandments of the Savior. This promise also has a different meaning. The Lord not only is the source of our righteousness, He is Righteousness. It is He who goes before our face, protecting us from onslaughts by the enemy.

“The glory of the Lord shall be thy rereward.” To understand this promise, we have to first understand what the word “rereward” means. This an old military term that refers to the guard at the rear of an army. Armies not only scouted ahead to watch for enemies, good armies also had soldiers on guard at the back of the army to watch out for flank attacks from enemies. The Lord will be both in front and behind us, protecting and guiding us. Such is the promise of faithful fasting.

“Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer.” This is a statement. Isaiah does not state, “If you call, the Lord might answer.” We are promised that the Lord will answer. The Lord always answers our prayers, even if the answer is “No” or “Wait.” He doesn’t look at the caller-ID and say, “Oh no, Jared’s calling again. I’ll pretend I’m not here.” He is there for us.

“Thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am.” This is the same as the last promise. However, when we cry, when we are hurt, or sad, or ashamed of what we have done, the Lord matches our tears with His own. When we cry out, when we are lost and scared in a dark forest of despair, the Lord hears and responds. Are we listening for His voice?

Fasting and Prayer, Part 3

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Those who faithfully fast have been promised great blessings. “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 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. And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in.” (Isa. 58:8-12).

There are so many blessings in there that it is important to understand each one separately. First, we are promised that if we faithfully fast and share our substance with the needy, our light will break forth as the morning. The light of the Lord will shine in our countenances. We will be included in the great spiritual army of Zion, which army “looketh forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners” (Song of Solomon 6:10; see also D&C; 5:14). The radiance of the Lord will shine round about us.

Second, we are promised that our health will spring forth speedily. There are known health benefits from fasting regularly. Additionally, the Lord here promises us that as we are faithful in fasting, we can be healthier than we were – spiritually and physically. This promise reminds one of the promise in the Word of Wisdom, which is also related to eating: “And all saints who remember to keep and do these sayings, walking in obedience to the commandments, shall receive health in their navel and marrow to their bones…. And shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint” (D&C; 89:19,21).

Fasting and Prayer, Part 2

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The book of Isaiah contains many plain and precious truths of the gospel that have rarely been expressed as succinctly and beautifully by other prophets. There is a reason that Isaiah is the most quoted prophet in the scriptures. There is a reason the Savior specifically told the Nephites to read his words. In Isaiah chapter 58 we learn much about the law of the fast, about fasting. Isaiah criticizes those who “fast for strife and debate,” (Isa. 58:4) who fast for the wrong reasons and are irritable and short-tempered. If we do not fast with sincere purpose, we are just starving ourselves for little benefit. We are more likely to “exact all [our] labours” (Isa. 58:3), or in other words, make sure others know we are suffering. This is what the Savior taught about on His sermon on the mount. “Moreover 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.” (Matt. 6:16). Then the Lord continues with how we should fast. “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” (Matt. 6:17-18).

Returning to Isaiah, we learn more about fasting. When we fast we should bow our heads down and express sorrow for sins, becoming penitent before the Lord. “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?” (Isa. 58:6). Through fasting we can free ourselves from the bondage of sin. We can be free from oppression and lightened of burdens. The yoke we use to pull our heavy cart of sin can be replaced by the Lord’s, which is easy and light [see 2 Ne. 15:18; Matt. 11:30].

Isaiah continued with things that we should do in conjunction with fasting. “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?” (Isa. 58:7). When we fast, we should also help feed the hungry and care for the poor and clothe the naked. That is what our Fast Offerings do today. They go to those in need in our ward, then stake, then the wider church. Through our offerings, we literally can bless the lives of our neighbors. Fasting gives us opportunity to stop focusing on ourselves so that we can focus on those around us.