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04 November 2012

Let's Talk About: Fasting

Look Mom!  No food!
"To voluntarily refrain from eating or drinking for the purpose of drawing closer to the Lord and requesting his blessings. When individuals and groups fast, they should also pray to understand God’s will and to develop greater spiritual strength. Fasting has always been practiced by true believers." (Fast, Fasting; A Guide to the Scriptures)

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are expected to fast once a month, usually on the first Sabbath of the month, in addition to their personal fasts for personal or family reasons.

What constitutes a proper fast?  
While serving a mission in California I worked in both Spanish and English congregations.  During my studies I found something interesting one day; the Spanish guide to the scriptures said that a fast was to be for 24 hours.  My whole life I had been taught that two consecutive meals was the correct policy, and you will see that taught by various church leaders.  The nice thing is, both are correct.  Elder Carl B. Pratt of the Seventy stated, "We are taught that there are three aspects to a proper fast day observance: first, abstaining from food and drink for two consecutive meals or, in other words, 24 hours; second, attending fast and testimony meeting; and third, giving a generous fast offering."  This means that if your two meal fast consists of breakfast and lunch, the fast should properly begin the night before the fast Sunday, after dinner.  This way, it is approximately 24 hours between the meals.

In the same article, Elder Pratt shares that his family fasts beginning after lunch on Saturday and miss dinner and breakfast as their two consecutive meals.  The churches standard is 24 hours and two meals. Which two meals those are is an individual or family choice.  Elder Pratt's family has kept this tradition as they feel a "spiritual advantage" in attending fast and testimony meeting at the end of a fast.

Let us make a distinction often overlooked by members of the church.  When we speak of fasting in the church, we are seeking to be obedient to the law of the fast.  As previously stated, merely refraining from food and drink, although fasting, does not constitute obedience to the law of the fast.  This is our goal after all with fasting, as fasting is a commandment for those who are physically able to.

So in order to obey the law of the fast, the Lord has asked us to attend our fast and testimony meetings and to donate a generous fast offering. The recommended fast offering donation is the cost of the two meals that you did not partake of.  In addition to these guidelines, it is also important that we fast with a purpose and with prayer.  It has been said that fasting without prayer is simply going hungry.  I would suggest that this is true, for if we do not involve the Lord in our fast, how will he be able to bless our efforts?

How can I make my fasting more meaningful?
I love these suggestions from Elder Shayne M. Bowen of the Seventy on how we can apply principles of fasting and fast with power:
  • As a fast day approaches, think about a purpose for your fast. That purpose could be as simple as expressing thanks.
  • Begin your fast by praying. Talk with Heavenly Father and share with Him the purpose of your fast .
  • Fast for two meals, or about 24 hours. (Those with medical concerns should follow doctors’ orders). Whenever hunger pains come, use them as a reminder to pray again about the purpose of your fast.
  • Give a generous fast offering.
  • If you feel impressed to do so, bear your testimony in fast and testimony meeting.
  • During the time you would have spent preparing food and eating, engage in worthy pursuits such as studying the scriptures, writing in your journal, or serving others.
  • After Sunday meetings, end your fast by praying.
  • Commit to being a better person, and make plans with God on how you will improve.

While a member of the quorum of the Twelve, President Henry B. Eyring taught that fasting enables us opportunities to keep our covenants and have the proper attitudes toward the bearing of testimony during fast and testimony meeting.
"The fast also helps us to feel humble and meek so that the Holy Ghost may more easily be our companion. By our fast, we both keep our covenant to care for others and we prepare to keep our covenant to bear testimony.Those who have prepared carefully for the fast and testimony meeting won’t need to be reminded how to bear testimony should they feel impressed to do it in the meeting. They won’t give sermons or exhortations or travel reports or try to entertain as they bear witness. Because they will have already expressed appreciation to people privately, they will have less need to do it publicly. Neither will they feel a need to use eloquent language nor to go on at length.A testimony is a simple expression of what we feel. The member who has fasted both for the blessing of the poor and for the companionship of the Spirit will be feeling gratitude for the love of God and the certainty of eternal truth. Even a child can feel such things, which may be why sometimes the testimony of a child so moves us and why our preparation of fasting and prayer produces in us childlike feelings.That preparation for the fast and testimony meeting is a covenant obligation for members of the Church. The offering of the gospel to those we meet and to our families are covenant obligations. We can take heart that our honest effort to keep our covenants allows God to increase our power to do it. We all need that assurance at times when our promise to love and to witness seems hard for us."
It's really not about the food.
Sometimes I have to take a step back and remember, it's not about the food. It's a hard mental switch to make, but when we understand the principles as Elder Bowen and President Eyring taught, fasting becomes so much more. It becomes about separating our spirits from our natural selves, and as they separate from the natural man they move closer to God. Fasting becomes about communing with our Father on a deeper level than we can with prayer alone. It becomes about experiencing an added portion of spiritual strength from the guidance of the Holy Ghost. It becomes about allowing the Lord to change us to become like Him.

Why 24 hours?
Elder Bowen clearly teaches that fasting can aid us in overcoming addictions, bad habits, and burdens and in calling down the powers of heaven. He also explains the process that occurs in the body when we fast and how it relates to us in putting off the natural man and achieving these desired consequences:

"...Our physical bodies are created in such a way that we can have a spiritual victory over the natural man each time we properly fast.
“When a person starts a fast, biochemical adjustments begin in the bloodstream to compensate for the lack of food. A carbohydrate substance known as glycogen is released from storage areas in the liver and the muscles. The body uses glycogen as food to keep cells supplied with energy. After 24 hours this food source is used up, and another source of energy is needed.
“Dr. Siegfried Heyden of Duke University’s Department of Community and Family Medicine says when this happens, the body starts looking for other energy sources. ‘The first thing happening after a 24-hour fast is the breakdown of fat cells. And these fat cells, when they break down, produce ketone bodies, as they are called. And these ketone bodies seem to have an effect on our psyche in that they make us no longer hungry.’”
After 24 hours without food or drink, the body (the natural man) submits to the spirit (the spiritual man). When the spiritual man is victorious, we experience greater sensitivity to the influence of the Holy Ghost."

How interesting is that? It's really not about the food, from the physical standpoint, it is about how our bodies relate to our spirits.  When I read through the many blessings the Lord offers us as we obey this law it becomes evident that He truly loves us and wants us to succeed and make the most of our lives.  I'm so grateful for His concern for me as one of His children.

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