To Fast and to Pray Oft
What is a Fast?
Fasting or going without food and drink for a period has been the religious practice of holy people from the beginning of record keeping.
Fasting is a way to purify the spirit and control the body. It is a private affair between God and man that brings vitality to the soul, but it must be completed the correct way for it to be beneficial.
Fasting is a basic tenet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a common practice among its members.
For members of the Church, fasting is a monthly ritual where they go without food for two meals and donate the money saved from those meals to the Church called a fast offering.
Participants voluntarily go without food or drink for two meals roughly equaling out to 24 hours. Latter-day Saints observe special individual fasting as needed in addition to the monthly church-wide fast, which occurs on the first Sunday of each month usually. Special fasts occur whenever the participants need them.
What Happens During the Fast?
A typical fast consists of more than just going without food or drink as mentioned above.
The first thing that a fasting person should do is begin with a prayer.
Prayer is the difference between the fast being starving for two meals or fasting for two meals.
The direction of the fast must be set so that no unnecessary strain or stress comes upon the body. Generally speaking, members are encouraged to plan fasting times when no strenuous activity will affect their ability to function, hence a Sunday monthly fast. Usually, people do not work on that day. Members are encouraged to adjust times according to circumstance.
Prayer and meditation dominate the fasting time. Service may be performed.
Scripture reading or missionary work--all within reason and ability of the person fasting--are other activities. Sleep and rest also are included in good fasting choices for PART of the period.
When fasting, the senses become heightened and emotions become sharper.
Because fasting members prepare themselves with meditation and prayer, the direction of the emotions experienced tend towards charity and love.
Frequently during the fasting time, the participant will pray and meditate as needed and convenient for circumstances.
On that fast Sunday, the members of the church gather to hear the testimonies of each other. During the regularly scheduled Sunday meetings, the leaders of the congregation encourage the members to express their faith to one another in an open forum to encourage each other in faith and support.
Who Decides What to Fast About?
It is up to the individual to decide what to fast about. Fasting is a private and a personal experience that only involves others if the participants agree. In a family setting the father or mother or a child may suggest a family fast that all can pray and meditate about.
The leaders of the local congregation or the general authorities of the church may also request special fasting topics for members to consider, but the deciding person is always the individual.
A person may fast for more than one reason, but the focus of the fast should be simple enough that the subject of the fast does not take away from the spirit of the fast, which is to grow more receptive to the whispering of the Holy Ghost getting closer to God.
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Unlike a talk, which is usually prepared in advance, testimonies are usually given spur of the moment, and that makes them a whole different kind of difficult.
What If You Cannot Fast?
Upon baptism, members of the church promise to fast as a way of keeping the covenant to stand as a witness of Jesus Christ in all places, actions and words as referenced in Mosiah 18:9-10. The Lord also requires that those who make that promise not to run faster than they have strength Doctrine & Covenants 10:4 (Doctrine and Covenants is another book of Scriptures inspired by God for present-day).
Expecting mothers, people on medications or who are ill are excused from fasting. Only those who are healthy enough to fast without causing harm to themselves should.
Also, small children or unwilling participants should not fast. Forcing participation in fasting destroys the purpose for the fast--to commune with God.
People who want to fast but cannot, may adjust their eating to reflect a fasting sacrifice by eating smaller portions or abstaining from certain types of food and drink. This decision is between the individual and God as whether or not such a sacrifice is acceptable.
Attempting to fast without proper regard for health and physical ability is not in harmony with living the gospel of Jesus Christ.
"For those who are physically able, fasting is a commandment. Speaking of our monthly fast day, President Joseph F. Smith said: “The Lord has instituted the fast on a reasonable and intelligent basis. … Those who can are required to comply … ; it is a duty from which they cannot escape; … it is left with the people as a matter of conscience, to exercise wisdom and discretion. …"
CARL B. PRATT Of the First Quorum of the Seventy
How Can Fasting Help Me
The focus of the fast is to commune with God and to profess to Him a willingness to sacrifice daily comfort to obtain that closeness. Elder Pratt goes on to explain that
...[t]he purpose of our fast may be a very personal one. Fasting can help us overcome personal flaws and sins. It can help us overcome our weaknesses—help them become strengths. Fasting can help us become more humble, less prideful, less selfish, and more concerned about the needs of others. It can help us see more clearly our own mistakes and weaknesses and help us be less prone to criticize others. Or our fast may have a focus on a family challenge. (reference)
The benefit of fasting properly helps people to overcome weakness--to master them rather than becoming slaves to them. If anger is a weakness that some struggle to control, fasting can help provide the strength to master the behavior--not by magically taking away the feelings. Fasting is an act of control within itself. Exercising the ability to control the body by fasting provides the discipline to use that control in other aspects of life.
© 2012 Rodric Anthony Johnson