—Doctrine and Covenants 88:76
To fast is to go without food and drink. Proper fasting, with prayer as its companion, increases spirituality, fosters a spirit of devotion and love of God, increases faith, encourages humility, teaches man his dependence upon God, and provides an opportunity for the spirit to take control over the body. (See Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966], p. 276.)
On one half of a chalkboard or large paper write the word prayer. Explain that this is one way we can receive the guidance of the Holy Ghost, but Heavenly Father has told us of something else we can do to help us feel even closer to him when we pray. To find what this is, have your family read Doctrine and Covenants 88:76. Write fasting on the other half of the chalkboard or paper.
Read or tell the story in Mosiah 27:8–37; Mosiah 28:1–8. Discuss the importance of fasting in the conversion and spiritual growth of Alma the Younger and Mosiah’s four sons. (See Mosiah 27:22, 23; Alma 17:1–3.)
Read what President Marion G. Romney said about fasting:
“We haven’t really called on the Lord so that we can reach him intimately if we don’t fast occasionally, and pray often. Many of our personal problems can be solved by so doing.” (“The Blessings of the Fast,” Ensign, July 1982, p. 4.)
Discuss how fasting can help the following people:
Sister Fletcher fasted so she could accept her husband’s untimely death without bitterness and raise her three small children alone.
Jan, a young woman, began to doubt the Church was true. She fasted for a testimony.
A missionary, Elder Thomas, fasted and prayed for help in teaching a fine family that was having difficulty understanding the gospel.
Why did Heavenly Father command us to fast as well as pray?
Be sure the following points are discussed: By going without food, we humble ourselves and show our desire to be close to him; we better understand our complete dependence upon him to supply our needs; and we make our spiritual needs more important than our physical needs.
Talk about how fasting can help your family.
Have part of your family read Matthew 6:16–18 and the others read Doctrine and Covenants 59:13–16 to discover how we should fast. Answers should include the following: in secret, joyfully, with thanksgiving, with cheerful hearts and faces.
Then have family members read the same verses to find the blessings that come to those who fast properly. Answers should include the following: we will be rewarded openly, we will receive fulness of joy and fulness of the earth.
Discuss how the scriptures relate to your own family’s fasting experiences. As you discuss with your children the spiritual feelings that come from fasting, be sure they understand that they may experience feelings of hunger and thirst, but they can grow in spirituality as they continue to cheerfully obey the commandment to fast.
To help your family understand that wisdom should be used in deciding how long to fast on Fast Sunday, discuss the following statements:
“The law to the Latter-day Saints, as understood by the authorities of the Church, is that food and drink are not to be partaken of for twenty-four hours. …
“… The Lord has instituted the fast on a reasonable and intelligent basis, and none of his works are vain or unwise. His law is perfect in this as in other things. Hence, those who can, are required to comply thereto; it is a duty from which they 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, it is no iron-clad law to us, but it is left with the people as a matter of conscience, to exercise wisdom and discretion. Many are subject to weakness, others are delicate in health, and others have nursing babies; of such it should not be required to fast. Neither should parents compel their little children to fast. I have known children to cry for something to eat on fast day. In such cases, going without food will do them no good. Instead, they dread the day to come, and in place of hailing it, dislike it; while the compulsion engenders a spirit of rebellion in them, rather than a love for the Lord and their fellows. Better teach them the principle, and let them observe it when they are old enough to choose intelligently, than to so compel them.” (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1939], pp. 243, 244.)
“Sometimes Latter-day Saints think that if it is good to fast for 24 hours, it is three times as good to fast for 72 hours. Healthwise nothing could be farther from the truth. Missionaries, especially, must have strength to carry out their work and should not over-indulge in fasting anymore than in food-faddism. Let’s follow the counsel of our leaders ‘that food and drink are not to be partaken of for twenty-four hours. …’ If longer fasting is required of us, they will so direct us.” (Lindsay R. Curtis, M.D., “Questions and Answers,” New Era, Apr. 1977, p. 49.)
Determine as a family how you can improve the quality of your fasting. It might be helpful to make individual commitments to be implemented on the next fast Sunday. The family could meet before beginning the fast, discuss a righteous reason for fasting or a special blessing that is needed, and begin with prayer.
Discuss the following questions to help your family understand the importance of helping those in need:
Who supplies all of our physical needs? (Heavenly Father planned the earth to meet our physical needs. Jesus carried out his plans.)
For whom did they create the earth? (All of Heavenly Father’s children. There is enough to supply the needs of all.)
How did our Heavenly Father intend for the needs of those who cannot provide for themselves to be supplied? (Those who have the means are to share with those in need. Read and discuss Mosiah 4:16–21 and Matthew 25:31–46.)
Read Isaiah 58:6–7 and ask what those who fast should do for the needy.
Teach your family that Heavenly Father commanded us to fast, giving money equal to the price of food we didn’t eat and whatever else we can afford to help those in need.
Read what President Joseph F. Smith said about fasting for the needy: “For the benefit of the poor we have the fast instituted, a leading object of which, among other things, is to provide the poor with food and other necessities until they may help themselves” (Gospel Doctrine, p. 236).
Discuss the following ideas in relation to your family:
When we are humble, fasting, and prayerful, we are more able to feel love and caring for those in need; we give to the needy regularly every month; and we each give the amount we can afford.
What promises are given to us if we fast for the needy? (See Isaiah 58:7–11.)
How well is your family observing the law to fast for the needy? Can you make at least one commitment to improve? Does every family member (even young children) feel a part of giving fast offerings as a family?
2 Samuel 12:15–23 (David fasted for the life of his child.)
Esther 4:15–17 (Esther asked the Israelites to fast for her.)
Matthew 6:16–18 (Do not appear to fast.)
Matthew 17:14–21 (Apostles needed prayer and fasting to perform miracle.)
Luke 2:37 (Anna fasted and prayed in the temple.)
Alma 5:45–46 (Alma fasted and prayed for a testimony of the truth.)
Alma 6:6 (The righteous gathered to fast and pray.)
Helaman 3:33–35 (The members of the Church fasted and prayed often.)
3 Nephi 27:1–2 (The disciples were united in mighty prayer and fasting.)
Doctrine and Covenants 59:3–14 (Perfect fasting.)
Doctrine and Covenants 88:76, 119 (Continue in prayer and fasting.)
See also “Fast, Fasting” in the Topical Guide.
“Lord, Accept Our True Devotion,” Hymns, no. 107.
Gospel Principles, “Fasting,” chapter 25.
“A Generous Fast Offering,” on the videocassette Essentials of Welfare (53045).
“The Law of the Fast,” on the Family Home Evening Video Supplement (53276).