“I give unto you a commandment that ye shall continue in prayer and fasting from this time forth.” -Doctrines of the Saints 53c:11 (Doctrine and Covenants 85:21a CoC, 88:76 CJLdS)
The meditation of prayer and listening to communicate with God is a key foundational practice of Mormon Kabbalah. Fasting has been a sacred practice carried out since time immemorial in nearly all cultures. Today, science tells us that fasting also has a number of benefits to our physical health, body and mind. Fasting can help detoxify the body and even contributes to the healing of some diseases.
There are a few different ways to fast. Some go off all food and drink. Others merely go off food for a time, or eat very minimally while only drinking water. And, one may fast from specific foods, or other non-food items. One might fast from social media, or from using any form or transportation other than walking or biking. The Spirit will guide us on how and when to fast.
Blessings of the Fast
There are a number of blessings we may receive from fasting.
- Gaining spiritual power
- Growing Closer to God
- Greater awareness
- Greater self control
- Increased health
- Greater happiness
How we are blessed will be determined on how we fast. That’s not to say what we give up, but rather what we put into it. The Lord will bless us, giving far more than we give up. Remember, it’s never the what, but the how and why. Skipping meals for 40 days and 40 nights isn’t what God is looking for; we’re blessed if we fast for one meal, if we just give all of it to the Lord.
Fast with a Purpose
How do we give all of our fast to the Lord? Start by fasting with a purpose. One should remember that fasting is both a sacrifice an a form of communication with God. All fasts should begin and end with prayer. When starting a fast, one should dedicate the fast. For example, a minister might feel called to fast before healing or giving a blessing (Psalms 35:13, Matthew 17:21, Mark 9:29). Or we might fast for loved ones (Ezra 10:6; Mosiah 11:185 RAV, 27:23 OPV). One might also fast to receive personal revelation, or revelation for one’s congregation (Daniel 9:3; Alma 3:79 RAV, 5:56b OPV; Exodus 34:28, ).
As a sacrament and a sacrifice, fasting reminds us of our power over our physical bodies. It takes self control to give up things we love, like an activity, and things we need, like food. Voluntarily sacrificing allows us to see things in a new perspective by forcing us to turn our eyes inward, upon ourselves. This greater clarity helps us identify and overcome worldly emotions from Ego that might hold us back. Fasting increases perception and sensitivity during the self imposed abstinence of physical wants and needs.
Fast in Secret
The more we talk about our fast, the more we feed Ego and forgo the opportunity to become more spiritually aware. A fast should be private (Matthew 6:16-18; 3 Nephi 5:108-109 RAV, 13:16-18 OPV). While we do not need to wear sackcloth and ashes to fast, it is okay to make others aware if the need arises. For example, if a minister is fasting before administering, it is best to let the person or people he or she will be administering too know they are fasting so they understand any delay. And, if the Spirit directs they might fast too with the minister.
How often should one fast? This is a question we may only ask ourselves and God. It is very popular for Christians to give something up as a fast to the Lord during the six weeks of Lent. In Lent, many Christians give up various worldly luxuries in an effort to duplicate Jesus Christ’s fast while in the desert for 40 days (Matthew 4:1-2, Luke 4:1-2). Some Saints fast once a month, personally or as a church body. They will skip two meals or forgo food and drink all together for 24 hours. The when and how do not matter as much, as long as fasting is actually done. When properly observed these spiritual disciplines can help us draw near to God.
If you are struggling with when to fast, follow this simple guide:
“And the word of the Lord of hosts came unto me, saying: Thus saith the Lord of hosts; The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall be to the house of Judah joy and gladness, and cheerful feasts; therefore love the truth and peace.” -Zechariah 8:18-19
It is easy to think a fast ends with a prayer. However, there is one more step: the fast offering. One’s offering should be equal to what they gave up. If one skips a meal, that meal or the monetary equivalent, should be given to charity. This is the final sacrifice, blessing others. We are giving something up to gain another, better thing. Yet we are not truly giving that thing up if we still have it. By blessing others we are showing Godly altruism, allowing God’s light to spill from our kli into the world.
“Therefore also now, saith the Lord, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: and rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil.” -Joel 2:12-13