The Savior Jesus Christ taught that we should love our neighbors as ourselves. As we sacrifice and serve others as the Savior did, both the givers and receivers are blessed with compassion, empathy, and love that lead to exaltation and eternal life.
Bishop Dean M. Davies taught that “caring for the poor and needy is a fundamental gospel doctrine and an essential element in the eternal plan of salvation” ("The Law of the Fast: A Personal Responsibility to Care for the Poor and Needy," October 2014 general conference).
The scriptures are replete with this command to serve others.
“For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land” (Deuteronomy 15:11).
Fasting and fast offerings are one way to help care for the poor and the needy.
“The Lord has established the law of the fast and fast offerings to bless His people and to provide a way for them to serve those in need (see Isaiah 58:6–12; Malachi 3:8–12). When members fast, they are asked to give to the Church a fast offering at least equal to the value of the food they would have eaten. If possible, they should be generous and give more. Blessings associated with the law of the fast include closeness to the Lord, increased spiritual strength, temporal well-being, greater compassion, and a stronger desire to serve” (Handbook 2, 6.1.2).
What is fasting?
Fasting is a commandment from the Lord where we humble ourselves before Him by voluntarily refraining from eating and drinking (see D&C 88:76).
In the Church today, one Sabbath day each month is set aside for the purpose of fasting. Members of the Church go without food and water for two consecutive meals in a 24-hour period and then contribute the money that would have been spent for that food to those in need (see Alma 34:28).
Fasting has been a practice of the prophets of God and members of His Church since ancient times. In Old Testament times, Moses and Elijah fasted (see Exodus 34:28; 1 Kings 19:8). For the Israelites, fasting was often used for certain occasions or for divine assistance. In New Testament times, Jesus Christ fasted 40 days and 40 nights in preparation for His ministry (see Matthew 4:1–4). He taught His disciples about the power and importance of fasting. This commandment to fast continues in our day.
How do I make my fast an acceptable offering to the Lord?
Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin taught: “Without prayer, fasting is not complete fasting; it’s simply going hungry. If we want our fasting to be more than just going without eating, we must lift our hearts, our minds, and our voices in communion with our Heavenly Father. Fasting, coupled with mighty prayer, is powerful. It can fill our minds with the revelations of the Spirit. It can strengthen us against times of temptation” (“The Law of the Fast,“ April 2001 general conference).
Elder L. Tom Perry said: “The longer I live, the more impressed I am with the Lord’s system of caring for the poor and needy. Surely no man would think of such a simple yet profound way of satisfying human needs—to grow spiritually and temporally through periodic fasting and then donating the amount saved from refraining from partaking of those meals to the bishop to be used to administer to the needs of the poor, the ill, the downtrodden, who need help and support to make their way through life” (“The Law of the Fast,” April 1986 general conference).
How can I take greater advantage of the privilege of fasting?
Fasting can be a more spiritual experience and draw you closer to God. Consider the following:
• Begin and end your fast with prayer.
• Encourage your family members to fast, always following the wise counsel of President Joseph F. Smith:
“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” (Gospel Doctrine, p. 244).
President Joseph F. Smith also counsels us to be wise in our fasting. ”There is such a thing as overdoing. A man may fast and pray till he kills himself; and there isn’t any necessity for it; nor wisdom in it. … The Lord can hear a simple prayer, offered in faith, in half a dozen words, and he will recognize fasting that may not continue more than twenty-four hours, just as readily and as effectually as He will answer a prayer of a thousand words and fasting for a month. … The Lord will accept that which is enough, with a good deal more pleasure and satisfaction than that which is too much and unnecessary” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1912, 133-34).
• Fast for special purposes at times other than on fast Sunday (see Mosiah 27:22).
• Pay a generous fast offering, urging your children to also contribute to fast offerings (see D&C 104:14–18).
What are the blessings of keeping the law of the fast?
Elder L. Tom Perry taught: “The law of the fast has three great purposes. First, it provides assistance to the needy through the contribution of fast offerings, consisting of the value of meals from which we abstain. Second, a fast is beneficial to us physically. Third, it is to increase humility and spirituality on the part of each individual” (“The Law of the Fast,” April 1986 general conference).
“When the poor are starving, let those who have, fast one day and give what they otherwise would have eaten to the bishops for the poor, and every one will abound for a long time. … And so long as the saints will all live to this principle with glad hearts and cheerful countenances they will always have an abundance” (History of the Church, 7:413; see also Joseph B. Wirthlin, “The Law of the Fast,” April 2001 general conference).
“Be liberal in your giving, that you yourselves may grow. Don’t give just for the benefit of the poor, but give for your own welfare. Give enough so that you can give yourself into the kingdom of God through consecrating of your means and your time. Pay an honest tithing and a generous fast offering if you want the blessings of heaven. I promise every one of you who will do it that you will increase your own prosperity, both spiritually and temporally. The Lord will reward you according to your deeds” (Marion G. Romney, Welfare Agricultural Meeting, Sept. 30, 1967; see also Marion G. Romney, "The Blessings of the Fast,” July 1982).
How are fast offerings administered?
Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin taught, “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” (April 2001 general conference).
The bishop of the ward is called by the Lord to administer in all temporal things, including distribution of fast offering funds (see D&C 107:68). Bestowed with the powers of discernment, the bishop determines who should receive temporal assistance and how it should be given. With a sincere understanding of this sacred trust, the bishop is guided by basic welfare principles. These principles include counseling in love and with compassion; encouraging family reliance; strengthening members to become self-reliant, both spiritually and temporally; meeting temporary needs; providing goods and services necessary to sustain life that are common to most members of the ward; and providing opportunities to work to the extent of the recipient’s ability for the assistance received.
President Gordon B. Hinckley taught: “We hope that through the payment of liberal fast offerings there will be more than enough to provide for the needs of the less fortunate. If every member of this church observed the fast and contributed generously, the poor and the needy—not only of the Church, but many others as well, would be blessed and provided for. Every giver would be blessed in body and spirit, and the hungry would be fed, the naked clothed according to need” (“Rise to a Larger Vision of the Work,” April 1990 general conference).
For information on administering fast offerings, bishops can refer to Handbook 1, 5.2.4.
How do I contribute to the fast offering fund?
Fast offerings can be contributed by filling out a donation slip and giving this to members of the bishopric. Where conditions permit, Aaronic Priesthood holders may be directed by the bishop to gather fast offerings from member households each month. Melchizedek Priesthood holders may also be asked to assist.
There is no standard donation amount for fast offerings. As you contribute generously to these funds, you will be blessed both spiritually and temporally for your desire to help others (see Tithing and Fast Offerings (2007), 1-14).
How do I teach my children about fast offerings?
When teaching children about fast offerings, consider studying Matthew 25:35-40 to illustrate the importance of taking care of the poor and needy. Explain that when they give their fast offerings to the bishop, those funds are used to help sick and needy members of your ward or branch. If your child is already aware of needs, such as a member who is sick or a family that is struggling with employment, you can use this as an example of what their offerings would be going to. Invite your children to consider how they can contribute to the fast offering fund. Read more here.