In the Church, we have a formal fast once a month in conjunction with a fast and testimony meeting. This fast usually lasts for 24 hours, and we donate the money we would have spent on two meals as fast offerings to help the needy. Those who can contribute more are encouraged to do so. The Lord has commanded all members to fast (see D&C 88:76). President Joseph F. Smith pointed out that fasting “is a duty from which [we] cannot escape; but let it be remembered that the observance of the fast day by abstaining twenty-four hours from food and drink is not an absolute rule, … but it is left with the people as a matter of conscience, to exercise wisdom and discretion.” Those with health problems that preclude fasting, mothers with nursing babies, and young children who do not understand the purposes for fasting should not feel compelled to fast (see Gospel Doctrine, 5th edition, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1939, page 244).
Fasting may simply be going without food or drink unless we fast with a purpose. This purpose (or purposes) may be personal and directed toward overcoming some individual problem or finding an answer to a difficult question or issue in our lives. In addition, we should fast on behalf of others, such as for those who are ill or to strengthen missionary efforts. Fasting is itself a form of worship (see Luke 2:37), and it is proper to fast to gain a testimony, as a form of righteous sorrow, and as a means of sanctifying one’s soul. It is not necessary to wait until the monthly fast day to fast for these and other good reasons. However, we are counseled not to fast for long periods of time and too often.
Fasting and prayer go together. Doctrine and Covenants 59:14 [D&C 59:14] declares, “This is fasting and prayer, or in other words, rejoicing and prayer.” Fasting, along with prayer, helps make us more receptive to the influence of the Lord. It teaches us to shut out the things of the world and focuses our attention on the things of the Spirit. And the closer we feel to the Lord, the greater our joy.
During your next fast, try these steps:
• Pray before beginning your fast.
• Fast with a purpose, and think often about the purpose of your fast.
• Remain cheerful and patient.
• Offer a prayer of gratitude at the end of your fast.
Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote that “fasting, with prayer as its companion, is designed to increase spirituality; to foster a spirit of devotion and love of God; to increase faith in the hearts of men, thus assuring divine favor; to encourage humility and contrition of soul; to aid in the acquirement of righteousness; to teach man his nothingness and dependence upon God; and to hasten those who properly comply with the law of fasting along the path to salvation” (Mormon Doctrine, 2nd edition, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966, page 276).
Here are some sample comments from readers who have experienced the blessings of fasting.
Each time we fast we need to have a well-defined purpose—such as praying for the recovery of a sick child or friend, resolving doubts, helping a needy member, preparing for school exams, accepting a new calling, and various other reasons. We can even fast and pray to feel the spirit of fasting.
From my own experience, I know prayer is a very important part of fasting. The first time I fasted was for just a few hours, but the experience became meaningful because the fast was accompanied by prayer. Pray before opening the fast, pray during the fast, and don’t forget to offer a prayer of thanks at the close of the fast.
And on fast Sundays, don’t forget to make a generous offering.
Kaun Christine Schwarzbold, 22
Santa Maria Ward, Santa Maria Brazil Stake
The first time I fasted was about a year ago. At the time, I was afraid that I would disappoint my Heavenly Father if I didn’t complete my fast. But to fast with that attitude is not very rewarding.
I have learned that to be meaningful, a fast must begin with a clear, righteous goal in mind. Through prayer, we then share that goal with Heavenly Father. We need to ask him to sustain us spiritually so we can overcome physical appetites. If we do this, we can be well-armed against enemies of the fast such as laziness, impatience, and the desire for food.
Fasting can be a very rewarding experience. If we do it in the right spirit, we will feel joy within ourselves and compassion for others.
Virginia H. Tefaaiie, 17
Puurai Ward, Papeete Tahiti Stake
Like prayer, fasting is something the Lord expects of us as we strive to live the gospel of Jesus Christ. To make fasting more meaningful, you need to pray, sharing the purpose of your fast with the Lord, and read the scriptures. If possible, ask your parents to fast with you.
Sina Taumaloto Faalelei, 12
Samoa Branch, Canberra Australia District
Fasting is a great spiritual experience.
As a missionary serving in a desert-like area where the temperature can sometimes get very hot, I have found that fasting can be quite a challenge. What has helped me most is to establish a purpose for fasting, to keep that purpose in mind—especially when I feel I am weakening—and to remember the Savior’s atoning sacrifice.
So I recommend that if you establish a purpose for the fast, pray about it, keep it in mind, and remember the Savior’s love, you will find fasting to be an occasion of great “rejoicing and prayer” (D&C 59:14).
Should your resolve weaken, remember the Lord’s promise that if we approach him in humility, with faith, he will “make weak things become strong” (Ether 12:27).
Elder Rincon Aguirre F.
Mexico Hermosillo Mission
I learned to appreciate the principle of fasting by fasting for just one meal the first time I did it. That helped me develop confidence that I could fast for two meals. I also learned to ask for Heavenly Father’s help, so that the experience might be spiritually uplifting.
My aunt became a member of the Church after we fasted and prayed in her behalf.
Marianne Vaags, 13
Muelheim Ward, Dortmund Germany Stake
When our stomach is making strange noises, our mouth is dry, and our body feels a little weak, when we constantly catch ourselves looking at the clock so we can quickly end our fast, we really can’t understand why the scriptures refer to the gospel principle of fasting as “rejoicing and prayer” (D&C 59:14).
I have had the opportunity to fast many times, and I have discovered that whether I find joy in a fast or just tolerate my hunger depends on my attitude. When I begin a fast, I focus on an important purpose. If I am truly seeking the Lord’s help, food becomes relatively unimportant. And if I feel my body getting weak, I recall the purpose for my fast and the eternal importance it has. Seen in that perspective, my fast doesn’t appear to be such a sacrifice.
It also helps to focus on the needs of others. When I remember that there are many hungry people in the world and that I enjoy regular meals every day, abstaining from two meals now and then in order to help is not hard to do. As I fast in this spirit, I learn charity.
Carmen Rodriguez de Fuentes
Petapa Ward, Villa Nueva Guatemala Stake
Although our fasts usually should take place on fast Sunday, we can fast any time. We do not need to wait to fast if we have a serious problem and need immediate help from the Lord, such as when a family member is very sick. The important thing is to fast in the spirit the Lord has asked of us—to be happy, not sad or grumpy. And although we are asking for the Lord’s help, we need to do whatever we can to help ourselves.
Maria Jimena Navarro, 15
Cruce Branch, Quilmes Argentina Stake
In the four years I have been a member of the Church, I have learned a lot about what a fast is, and I have put it into practice on many occasions. By fasting, I not only develop my own spirituality, but I also become partners with the Lord in meeting the needs of others, whether they be spiritual or economical.
Mildred I. Tumbaco Solis, 21
Jipijapa 1st Branch, Jipijapa Ecuador District
There are specific things we need to do as we fast: Have a purpose in mind, pray for help, read the scriptures, and end with prayer. Doing this will help make our fast meaningful. But we need to remember that our petitions may not be answered immediately or in a way we expect. The Lord determines how and when he will give us an answer.
Patricia Elizabeth Sanchez Hidalgo, 21
Prusia Ward, San Salvador El Salvador Soyapango Stake