Lesson 31: Prayer and Fasting

Duties and Blessings of the Priesthood: Basic Manual for Priesthood Holders, Part A, (2000), 230–36


The purpose of this lesson is to help us learn how to strengthen our families and quorums through prayer and fasting.

Introduction

  • Have the assigned class members present a short review of the principles of fasting and prayer as taught in the Gospel Principles manual.

Praying and Fasting Can Be a Blessing to Our Families

Praying and fasting can help us strengthen ourselves and our families. Our prayers for guidance are made more powerful because fasting emphasizes the earnestness of our prayers. Furthermore, when we fast and pray, we turn away from the things of the world and recognize our dependence on the Lord. In this way, we open our hearts to learn and accept God’s will for us and our families.

Prayer and fasting also increase our ability to use the priesthood effectively. Both we and others are blessed when we learn that the power of the priesthood can be used only when we live the principles of righteousness. (See D&C 121:34–36.)

  • Show visual 31-a, “Fasting and praying can help a priesthood holder administer to the sick more effectively.”

    blessing sick(click to view larger)

    31-a, Fasting and praying can help a priesthood holder administer to the sick more effectively.

The following story tells how one priesthood bearer learned the power of fasting and praying in helping him use the priesthood:

When John and Bonnie’s small son became critically ill, the doctors diagnosed the illness as spinal meningitis. They told the parents that their boy would either die or be physically and mentally handicapped. As a bearer of the Melchizedek Priesthood, John decided to give his son a blessing. As he prepared to seal the anointing, however, he realized he did not know the Lord’s will for his son. And so he simply blessed the boy that he would be comfortable.

After the blessing, John and Bonnie began to fast to know the will of the Lord and to be able to accept it. At the end of their fast, John and Bonnie felt ready to accept the Lord’s will. John again blessed his son. This time the Spirit whispered to him to bless the child that he would be healed completely. Their son was healed, and three days later they took him home from the hospital.

  • How would their fasting have helped John and Bonnie if the answer to their prayers had been different?

Teaching and Strengthening Our Families through Praying and Fasting

As parents, we should always pray to know the needs of our children and how to meet those needs. When one of our children is facing a particular challenge, for example, we can mention him or her in our family prayers. We should be careful, however, to always do this in a positive way. One father prayed for his son in these words: “[Heavenly] Father, we know that John is making a real effort to control his temper. We are grateful to see him growing and for thy help and support of our son. Please continue to bless him, and to bless us that we might not provoke him to anger but instead express our love and willingness to help him” (Marian P. Sorensen, “Teaching Children through Prayer,” Ensign, May 1973, 34).

  • How would this kind of prayer help a young man to overcome his problem?

Elder M. Russell Ballard told of an experience with his five-year-old son, who was afraid to start school. Recognizing that his son was afraid, he said: “Craig, you have a friend that will always be with you. Let’s kneel down together and ask Him to help you” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1976, 129–30; or Ensign, Nov. 1976, 87–88).

Fasting and praying as a family can bring us great strength and unity, as the following story illustrates:

Alan was a young man who had received a call to serve the Lord on a foreign mission. He was anxious to serve, but as he began to study the language, he became very concerned because he was not able to learn it.

When Alan’s father learned of his son’s problem, he called his family together. He asked them to fast and pray that Alan could overcome his problem and serve a successful mission.

  • How could such an experience strengthen our children? How can fasting and praying together unite families? Read 3 Nephi 18:21.

Accomplishing the Lord’s Work through Fasting and Praying

A certain man came to Jesus, knelt before Him, and said:

“Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatick, and sore vexed: for ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water.

“And I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him.”

The Lord immediately cast out the devil from the boy. The disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Why could not we cast him out?” Jesus told them it was because of their unbelief, and then added, “Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.” (See Matthew 17:14–21.)

In the following story Elder Matthew Cowley told of a bishop who understood the necessity of fasting and praying:

“[A wealthy young bishop in Honolulu] was called one day from the Queen’s Hospital to come and bless a boy who had polio. A native sister had called him. He was her bishop, and she said, ‘Bishop, come up here, my boy is stricken with polio, and I want you to come up here and administer to him and bless him.’ All day she waited for him, and the bishop never showed up. All night he never showed up, the next morning he never showed up, but early in the afternoon here he came. She turned loose on him. She called him everything she could think of. ‘You, my bishop, I call you and tell you my boy is here stricken with polio. And you your own boss, you have your cars; you have a beautiful yacht; you have everything you want; and your time is your own; and you don’t show up. You just come now after a whole day.’ After she had finished and couldn’t think of anything more to call him, he smiled and said, ‘Well, after I hung up the receiver yesterday, I started to fast, and I’ve been fasting and praying for twenty-four hours. I’m ready now to bless your boy.’ At five o’clock that evening the boy was released from the hospital entirely cured of his polio. … ‘This kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.’

“Now I doubt very much if he had gone up there the day before that would have happened. I think that prayer and that fasting were needed. So I think that we who hold this priesthood sometimes don’t exercise it enough. You have to keep in condition, you have to keep in training with this priesthood which we have, then we’d always be prepared when we go out to officiate in the offices of the priesthood to give blessings” (Matthew Cowley Speaks [1954], 150).

It is not always necessary to wait that long before administering to the sick, but we should always seek to receive inspiration from the Lord before performing any priesthood ordinance.

  • Why is it important for us to be spiritually prepared when we perform priesthood ordinances?

Just as priesthood bearers need to prepare to perform ordinances, those asking for blessings should also prepare themselves and their families to receive the ordinances. Elder Matthew Cowley told how a child’s parents used fasting and prayer to prepare themselves and their child for a blessing.

“A little over a year ago a couple came into my office carrying a little boy. The father said to me, ‘My wife and I have been fasting for two days, and we’ve brought our little boy up for a blessing. You are the one we’ve been sent to.’

“I said, ‘What’s the matter with him?’

“They said he was born blind, deaf and dumb, no coordination of his muscles, couldn’t even crawl at the age of five years. I said to myself, this is it. ‘This kind cometh not out save by fasting and by prayer.’ I had implicit faith in the fasting and the prayers of those parents. I blessed that child, and a few weeks later I received a letter: ‘Brother Cowley, we wish you could see our little boy now. He’s crawling. When we throw a ball across the floor he races after it on his hands and knees. He can see. When we clap our hands over his head he jumps. He can hear.’ Medical science had laid the burden down. God had taken over” (Matthew Cowley, Miracles, Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year [18 Feb. 1953], 8).

Many missionaries have discovered the blessings that come from fasting and praying. President Ezra Taft Benson told of an experience he had as a missionary fasting and praying with his companion:

“Out of personal experience, I know the efficacy and power of prayer. When I was a young missionary in Northern England in 1922, the opposition to the Church became very intense. The opposition became so strong that the mission president asked that we discontinue all street meetings, and in some cases tracting was discontinued.

“My companion and I had been invited to travel over to South Shields to speak in the sacrament meeting. In the invitation they said, ‘We feel sure we can fill the little chapel. Many of the people over here do not believe the falsehoods printed about us. If you’ll come, we’re sure that we’ll have a great meeting.’ We accepted.

“We fasted and prayed sincerely and went to the meeting. My companion had planned to talk on the first principles. I had studied much in preparation for a talk on the apostasy. There was a wonderful spirit in the meeting. My companion spoke first and gave an inspirational message. I responded and talked with a freedom I had never experienced before in my life. When I sat down, I then realized that I had not mentioned the apostasy. I had talked on the Prophet Joseph Smith and borne my witness of his divine mission and to the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. After the meeting had ended, several people came forward, some of them being nonmembers, and said, ‘Tonight we received a witness that the gospel is true as you elders teach it. We are now ready for baptism.’

“This was an answer to our fasting and prayers, for we prayed to say only those things which would touch the hearts of the friends and investigators” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1977, 46; or Ensign, May 1977, 33–34).

Conclusion

There are many other times when fasting and prayer can help us accomplish the Lord’s work. For example, we can fast and pray for the families we home teach. We can also fast and pray as a quorum for one of our quorum members or his family.

Through prayer and fasting, we can be blessed physically and increase in faith and spiritual power. Such power is necessary if we are to be successful in our labors and in strengthening ourselves and others.

Challenges

Determine some of the things you need to fast and pray about in your personal life and in your family. Think also about some of the needs of your fellow quorum members. Commit yourself to pray and fast for one of these purposes.

Additional Scriptures

Prayer

Fasting

  • Exodus 34:27–28 (Moses fasted before receiving revelation from God)

  • Luke 2:36–37 (Anna served God by fasting and praying)

  • Acts 13:2–3 (fasting can bring the inspiration of the Holy Ghost)

  • Mosiah 27:23 (the fasting and prayer of others helped Alma recover)

  • Alma 6:6 (the Nephites fasted and prayed for those who didn’t know God)

  • Alma 17:9 (missionaries fasted and prayed for the Spirit)

  • Alma 45:1 (praying and fasting is one way to give thanks to God)

Teacher Preparation

Before presenting this lesson:

  1. 1.

    Read Gospel Principles chapter 8, “Praying to Our Heavenly Father.” Assign a class member to give a three-minute review of that lesson.

  2. 2.

    Read Gospel Principles chapter 25, “Fasting.” Assign a class member to give a three-minute review of that lesson.

  3. 3.

    Assign class members to present any stories, scriptures, or quotations you wish.