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!