As a deacon in Salt Lake City pioneer days, Willard R. Smith was assigned to gather the “fast” on his block. His supervisor, Brother Peter Reid, had the responsibility of seeing that the fast offerings were gathered and offerings “in kind” were distributed to the needy. He would call at Willard’s home every Friday night and tell Willard that the little express wagon was dusted, oiled, and ready for the job.
Willard would visit every home on the block, members and nonmembers alike, and offer them the opportunity to give something for the poor.
One particular Saturday Willard’s football team had scheduled a game; and he was eager to play. He knew he was supposed to gather the fast, but, as he later recalled, “I wanted more than anything else to play that game. I chose pleasure over duty and played football.
“Early the next morning Brother Reid knocked on our back door and asked for me. I was conscience stricken—I wanted to run and hide—but I faced him, head down. All he said was, ‘Willard, do you have time to take a little walk with me?’
“I went with him, first to a little frame house near the corner. He gently rapped on the door; a poor, little, thin lady answered it.
“‘Brother Reid,’ she said, ‘we didn’t get our food yesterday and we haven’t a thing in the house to eat.’
“‘I’m sorry,’ Brother Reid said, ‘but I’m sure we’ll have something for you before the close of the day.’
“We went to another door. In response to our knock a voice called for us to come in.
“We entered to find an aged man and his wife in bed. ‘Brother Reid,’ he said, ‘we are without coal, and we have to stay in bed to keep warm.’
“In another house we were greeted by a mother with her small children huddled together. The baby was crying and the other children had tear-strained faces.
“That was enough! As we parted Brother Reid said gently, ‘Willard, whenever anybody fails to do his duty, someone suffers.’
“I was about to cry—overwhelmed by my neglect of duty. He laid his hand on my shoulder and left. Those people had their food and coal early that afternoon—and I learned a most valuable lesson.” (Program Outline for Teaching Observance of the Law of the Fast, pamphlet, 1965, pp. 19–20.)
Brother Smith’s experience clearly shows that paying fast offerings means more than putting money into an envelope—it means helping real people in need. It seems, however, that we often forget—even downplay—the importance of fast offerings. Many of us tend to emphasize tithing—and rightly so—after all, we are told that tithe payers will be spared at the Second Coming; we hear of Lorenzo Snow’s experience in St. George, Utah (recounted in the film “The Windows of Heaven”); we are reminded that a man can rob God by not paying his tithing. (See Mal. 3:8–10.)
But a closer look at this same scripture reveals a very significant truth: in response to the question “Wherein have we robbed thee?” the Lord answers, “In tithes and offerings.” (Mal. 3:8; italics added) Understanding that many of us need greater awareness of the importance of fast offerings, our General Authorities have begun to focus heavily on this issue. Fast offerings do deserve serious attention. In fact, President Heber J. Grant said, “The fundamental law pertaining to the welfare of our people [is] fast offering.” (Quoted in Harold B. Lee, Welfare Agricultural Meeting, 3 Apr. 1971)
In 1971 President Marion G. Romney challenged members to double their fast offerings and promised that if they did, spirituality in the Church would also double. In 1974 President Spencer W. Kimball stated, “There is no reason why the latest organized branch cannot take care of itself in large measure if we pay our fast offerings.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1974, p. 184)
And finally, the Lord has told us that he who does not remember the poor and the needy “is not my disciple.” (See D&C 52:40.) Payment of fast offerings is the Lord’s way for us to show that we do remember the poor, that we are Christ’s disciples.
Of course, paying fast offerings is not always easy. Like other financial contributions to the Church, it can be a test of our faithfulness. One brother related the following experience:
“I was a student at Oxford and was preparing to fly home to the United States. I only had a little money and needed to do three things: pay my fast offering and budget, buy a trunk for my things, and pay for transportation to the airport. I only had enough money for two of these. I had decided to wait and pay fast offerings and budget later, but while I was in church I felt inspired to go ahead and pay them—which I did. Afterwards I was left with enough money for either the trunk or transportation to the airport, but not both. Later, as I was walking down the street, I noticed a man carrying a trunk. I asked him about it, and he told me he was about to throw it away. After we talked for a minute he gave me the trunk—my problem was solved. To me, that was a direct blessing for paying my fast offerings and budget.”
Another man attended a stake leadership meeting where the congregation was challenged to double their fast offerings; they were promised that their incomes would increase if they would do so. As this brother reported,
“I went home and discussed this promise with my wife. We were already paying quite a bit of fast offerings. We were willing to double the amount but did not want to do it for a selfish purpose. After prayer and consideration we decided to double our fast offerings. Not long after this, unexpected opportunities started coming to me in my work. After one year my income had significantly increased! We felt this was truly a blessing from the Lord—the fulfillment of a promise given to us by one of his servants.”
Significantly, in both of these cases, the individuals involved did not act out of self-interest—their main motivation was serving the Lord. They were willing to sacrifice to help those in need.
This principle of sacrifice is fundamental to a true observance of the law of the fast. A minimum fast offering is defined as the equivalent of the value of two meals, but as President Kimball has noted:
“Sometimes we have been a bit penurious [stingy] and figured that we had for breakfast one egg and that cost so many cents and then we give that to the Lord. I think that when we are affluent … we should be very generous and give, instead of the amount we saved by our two meals of fasting, perhaps much, much more—ten times more where we are in a position to do it. I know there are some who couldn’t.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1974, p. 184; italics added.)
Fast offerings provide blessings not only for those who receive but also for those who give. President Kimball has said, “If we give a generous fast offering, we shall increase our own prosperity both temporally and spiritually.” (“The Gospel in Action,” Ensign, Nov. 1977, p. 79)
We can make paying fast offerings a more meaningful experience by taking the following steps: 1) In the family home evening preceding fast day, we can discuss the reasons for both fasting and fast offerings. 2) We can select a purpose for our fasting. If we choose to request a special blessing for someone else, our sincerity is manifested both by our willingness to go without food and our willingness to contribute money. (Little children are not required to fast, but can be taught the principle and led into it a step at a time.) 3) All family members can contribute to the fast offering—children can learn important lessons by participating. Perhaps the act of giving should be emphasized more than the amount given. 4) Fast Sunday itself can begin and end with special prayers.
It would also seem important for family members to learn—as Willard Smith learned—that fast offering contributions go directly to the poor. These funds are not used for any other Church programs and thus perform a vital function for needy Church members.
The essential service fast offering funds perform is illustrated by the case of a widow and her three young children who went to their bishop for help. They had no money and were indebted to many of the businesses of the town. The bishop wrote to her creditors, explaining the situation; fifteen of them made adjustments in the bill of at least fifty percent. Over the next three months, by use of several hundred dollars in fast offerings, many debts were repaid. This assistance proved to be a great boost for the family—both financially and spiritually. In the months and years that followed, the family was able to function on sound economic principles. Both boys served missions; all three children were married in the temple. The availability of fast offerings at the right time, managed wisely, helped this family to once again live a normal life.
Experiences such as this one—and they are common throughout the Church—make the blessings that come through obedience to the law of the fast increasingly evident: needy Church members receive material aid; these same people benefit spiritually by knowing they are loved; the givers grow and are blessed from both fasting and donating their money.
Yet there is still another blessing that, because of its eternal consequences, is perhaps more important than all the others: the giving of a generous fast offering helps prepare us for the law of consecration, In the words of President Romney,
“While we await the redemption of Zion and the earth and the establishment of the United Order, we … should live strictly by the principles of the United Order insofar as they are embraced in present church practices, such as the fast offering, tithing, and the welfare activities. Through these practices we could as individuals, if we were of a mind to do so, implement in our own lives all the basic principles of the United Order.” (Improvement Era, June 1966, p. 537)
This idea is extremely significant, for as Elder Bruce R. McConkie has written, practice of the law of consecration “is inextricably intertwined with the development of the attributes of godliness.” (Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed., Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966, p. 158)
Our genuine observance of the law of the fast—which includes fasting, prayer, and payment of fast offerings—is an important part of our growth toward godhood. We will not be prepared for the eternal law of consecration until we have fully lived the principles of our present welfare program.
As members of the true church, our responsibility is to live the law of the fast more completely than we have ever done before. The Lord himself has asked,
“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?” (Isa. 58:6–7)
A faithful response on our part, a willingness to go the second mile, will bring the fulfillment of the Lord’s promise:
“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.
“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.” (Isa. 58:8, 10–11.)