The law of the fast

Perhaps our failure to heed a particular commandment comes because we do not comprehend the promised blessings. And perhaps one of the most misunderstood commandments - with its accompanying blessings - is the law of the fast, which is also one of the most ancient of laws given by God.

Under the heading of "Fasts" in the Bible Dictionary of the 1979 LDS edition of the King James Version of the Bible is this insight: "Fasting, a voluntary abstinence from food, is a principle of the gospel of Jesus Christ for developing spiritual strength; it has always existed among true believers. Without doubt it was practiced by Adam and his posterity from the beginning whenever they had the gospel among them. The early portion of the Old Testament does not mention fasting, but this is due to the scarcity of the record rather than the absence of the practice. There are frequent references to fasting in the later portions of the Old Testament and in the New Testament."A few examples of fasting from the Bible, the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants include:

When Moses went "up into the mount to receive the tablets of stone," he stayed there 40 days and nights, during which time, he "neither did eat bread nor drink water." (Deut. 9:9.)

After an angel sent the prophet Elijah to Mount Horeb, he fasted 40 days and nights, after which the Lord spoke to him in a "still small voice." (See 1 Kings, chapter 19.)

At a crucial time in the history of the children of Israel, Esther sent word to Mordecai that he should "gather together all the Jews that are present . . . and neither eat nor drink three days," while she and her maidens fasted likewise, in preparation for her to speak with the king. A nation was preserved. (See Esther, chapter 4.)

Near the beginning of His ministry, the Savior taught the greatest lesson regarding fasting as He went into the wilderness for fasting and prayer. (See Luke, chapter 4.)

After "they had given themselves to much prayer, and fasting" the sons of Mosiah received "the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and when they taught, they taught with power and authority of God." (Alma 17:2-3.)

After he fasted and prayed, Alma gained great power to preach to the wicked people of Ammonihah. (See Alma, chapter 8.)

With the Savior's atonement, the Mosaic law of sacrifice was done away with, but the law of the fast - so inextricably a part of the Law of Moses - was retained. The resurrected Savior, appearing to the Nephites, instructed the people to continue in "fasting and prayer." (See 4 Ne. 1:12.)

Through the Prophet Joseph Smith in our dispensation, the Lord gave "a commandment that ye shall continue in prayer and fasting from this time forth." (D&C 88:76.)

These few passages of scripture not only teach the importance of fasting but also show that it is to be coupled with prayer. And they teach that strength comes to the spirit while food is withheld from the body during a time of fasting and prayer.

Through the generations, some elements of fasting have changed. For example, a proper fast today is abstaining during a 24-hour period from two consecutive meals once a month, rather than for three days, as in the time of Esther, or 40, as with the experiences of Moses, Elijah and the Savior. But the law of the fast is still with us. And today, as anciently, miracles follow fasting and prayer. While the miracles we experience today might not be as dramatic or even as recognizable as those recorded in the scriptures, they are no less significant.

In addition to reaping blessings from the traditional fast once a month, we are invited individually to approach the Lord in fasting and prayer as a particular need arises, such as when we need to strengthen our spirits, increase our faith, receive health or special comfort, or obtain answers and direction in our lives. We are counseled, however, to avoid extensive or excessive fasting.

Quite often, we associate fasting with making donations of equal or greater value of the missed meals to the fast offering fund to help the needy. While this is certainly an important part of fasting in the Church today, we ought not to overlook a greater reason for the fast: fasting, when done in the proper spirit and coupled with sincere prayer, draws us closer to the Lord and makes us more susceptible to His will.

The blessings that come from fasting are as a sweet spiritual feast. The Lord has invited us to His table. Let us approach with joy and gladness.

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