The Jews wondered why the Lord did not acknowledge their fasting. Through Isaiah, the Lord taught the people about proper fasting and Sabbath observance.
Invite students to imagine themselves in the following situation:
One Sunday morning, you prepare breakfast and are about to start eating when you realize that it is fast Sunday.
What are the first thoughts that enter your mind?
To ensure students have a basic understanding of fasting, ask:
What is fasting? (When members of the Church “fast,” they voluntarily go without food and drink for about 24 hours in order to draw closer to the Lord and seek His blessings.)
When do Church members usually fast? (We can fast at any time, but “the Church designates one Sunday each month, usually the first Sunday, as a day of fasting” [True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference (2004), 67].)
Ask students to reflect on their feelings about fasting. Explain that some people wonder why the Lord has directed us to fast. Invite students to look for principles in Isaiah 58 that can help them understand why we fast and how fasting can be a source of spiritual power.
Summarize Isaiah 58:1–2 by explaining that the Lord directed Isaiah to boldly declare to the house of Jacob (or Israel) their sins. These sins included outwardly performing religious practices without sincere intent and thus acting as if they were a righteous nation that had not forsaken the Lord.
Explain that one law these Israelites outwardly practiced was fasting. Invite a student to read Isaiah 58:3 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what the people asked the Lord about their fasting.
What did the people ask the Lord about their fasting? (They wondered why He did not acknowledge their fasting.)
Point out that verses 3–4 record the Lord’s response to the people. He taught that rather than seeking to be repentant and draw closer to Him while they fasted, they sought worldly pleasures and engaged in worldly activities. Instead of showing compassion to others, they forced others to work, and they were irritable and contentious. The Lord said that because their intentions and actions were improper while they fasted, He would not acknowledge their prayers.
Invite a student to read Isaiah 58:5 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what the Lord questioned about the people’s fasting. Explain that a bulrush is a tall, thin grass that droops and that sackcloth is coarse material sometimes made from goat’s hair. In biblical times people often wore sackcloth or sat on sackcloth and ashes to symbolize their humility or sorrow.
What did the Lord question about the people’s fasting? (He questioned whether the outward appearances of fasting reflected the proper spirit of the fast that He intended.)
How might we make similar mistakes when we fast?
Invite students to note the first question the Lord asked as recorded in Isaiah 58:6.
How would you phrase the Lord’s question in your own words?
Write the following incomplete statement on the board: If we fast as the Lord intends, … (Students will complete this statement with three different phrases during the lesson.)
Invite a student to read Isaiah 58:6 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what the Lord taught about the intended purposes of fasting.
If we fast as the Lord intends, what can we do for others and ourselves? (Students may suggest a variety of answers, such as the following principle: If we fast as the Lord intends, then we can help relieve others’ burdens and receive relief from our own burdens. Write the second part of this principle on the board.)
What difference can it make if we fast with a specific righteous purpose?
What are some examples of “bands of wickedness,” “heavy burdens,” oppression, or yokes that can be relieved when we fast?
When have you seen the Lord relieve your own or others’ burdens through fasting?
Invite a student to read Isaiah 58:7 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for another intended purpose of fasting.
What is another intended purpose of fasting? (Students should identify the following principle: If we fast as the Lord intends, then we will care for the poor and needy. Write the second part of this principle on the board.)
How can we help care for the hungry, poor, and naked through fasting? (One way is through contributing fast offerings.)
Display a Tithing and Other Offerings form, and review the process of donating fast offerings.
To help the class understand how fast offerings are used, consider inviting a student to read aloud the following statement by Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:
“Fast offerings are used for one purpose only: to bless the lives of those in need. Every dollar given to the bishop as a fast offering goes to assist the poor. When donations exceed local needs, they are passed along to fulfill the needs elsewhere” (“The Law of the Fast,” Ensign, May 2001, 74).
What amount should we give for a fast offering? (Generally, at least the value of the two meals not eaten. Prophets have encouraged us to be generous when possible.)
Invite several students to take turns reading aloud from Isaiah 58:8–12. Ask the class to follow along, looking for blessings the Lord promised for fasting as He intends.
In your own words, how would you summarize these promised blessings for fasting as the Lord intends? (Students should express a principle similar to the following: If we fast as the Lord intends, then He can bless us with light, health, righteousness, protection, revelation, and guidance. Write the second part of this principle on the board.)
When have you or someone you know experienced blessings similar to those listed in these verses by fasting as the Lord intends?
Invite students to consider whether they fast as the Lord intends. Ask them to write on pieces of paper a goal for one way they can improve their fasting. Encourage them to put this goal in a place where they can see it often before the next fast Sunday.
Explain that the Lord next taught the people about another law they were improperly observing. Then ask:
What days of the week or year bring you a lot of joy?
Invite students to scan Isaiah 58:13, looking for the day the Lord associates with being a “delight,” or a source of great joy. Ask students to report what they find.
Explain that Isaiah 58:13–14 records that the Lord taught a principle about the Sabbath that can make that day a source of great joy for us and a means of obtaining other blessings from Him.
Write the word If on the board. Invite a student to read Isaiah 58:13 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what the Lord taught about how to keep the Sabbath day holy. (You may want to remind students that holy means set apart or sanctified for God’s purposes.)
What did the Lord teach about how to keep the Sabbath day holy?
What do you think the phrase “turn away thy foot … from doing thy pleasure on my holy day” means for us?
How would you summarize the Lord’s instructions in Isaiah 58:13 using the word if? (Write students’ responses on the board next to If. One way to summarize the Lord’s instructions is If we honor the Lord by keeping the Sabbath day holy, …)
Write the word then on the board. Invite a student to read Isaiah 58:14 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for the blessings the Lord promised for keeping the Sabbath day holy.
Explain that the phrase “the high places of the earth” in verse 14 can refer to sacred places where revelation can be received and God’s presence can be felt, such as chapels and temples of the Lord. The phrase “the heritage of Jacob” refers to the blessings promised to Jacob and his posterity.
How would you summarize the blessings listed in Isaiah 58:14? (Write students’ responses on the board next to then. Students should identify a principle similar to the following: If we honor the Lord by keeping the Sabbath day holy, then we will have joy in our relationship with the Lord and obtain both temporal and spiritual blessings.)
Divide students into groups of two or three. Invite students to imagine that several friends ask them what they can do with their time on the Sabbath so they will not be doing their “own ways” or seeking their “own pleasure” (Isaiah 58:13). Invite students to work in their groups to create a list of activities that would help their friends honor the Lord by keeping the Sabbath day holy. (You may want to invite students to review “Sabbath Day Observance” in For the Strength of Youth, 30–31, for additional ideas.)
After sufficient time, invite one student from each group to write his or her group’s responses on the board.
Which of these activities have helped you to be able to “call the sabbath a delight”? (Isaiah 58:13). Why?
In what ways have you experienced joy and temporal and spiritual blessings as a result of honoring the Lord by keeping the Sabbath day holy?
Invite students to reflect on how they spent their previous Sabbath day. Ask them to take the piece of paper on which they wrote their goal for fasting and add to it a goal for one way they will better keep the upcoming Sabbath day holy. Explain that you may follow up with students on what they experience as a result of applying their goals related to fasting and keeping the Sabbath day holy.
To help students memorize Isaiah 58:6–7, invite a student to come to the board and draw an image or write a word representing each statement in the verses. Ask the class to help the student with ideas of what to draw or write. For example, the student might draw an open jail cell to represent the phrase “let the oppressed go free” or a blanket to represent covering the naked. After the student finishes drawing or writing, invite students to recite this passage together twice while looking at the verses. Then invite students to recite it twice while looking only at the images or words on the board. Consider taking a picture of these images or words and giving copies to students during the next class to further help them memorize this passage.
To help students memorize Isaiah 58:13–14, consider using one of the ideas presented in the appendix of this manual.