The phone call usually arrives at night and a family member usually begins, "A member of our family is having difficulty and we would like you to fast with us as he seeks an answer to prayer."
The need to fast with a purpose is obvious as we struggle with difficult decisions or pray we might make the right decision or take the right course of action concerning our family, our jobs or school work, our callings or our health.
Normally, these concerns would be the focus of a regular fast day. Special fasts would be an exception.
Fasting, together with humble prayers, allows us added spiritual sustenance as we wrestle with those things that trouble us and as we seek the Lord's guidance concerning our next course of action.
While regular fasting is a part of the gospel and a monthly occurrence in the Church to help those with temporal needs fasting on behalf of others or on our own becomes more important as we seek the blessings of God in making our decisions.
During the October 1999 general conference address, President Thomas S. Monson said:
"In a revelation given through the Prophet Joseph Smith at Kirtland, Ohio, December 27, 1832, the Master counseled, 'Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing; and establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God' (Doctrine and Covenants 88:119).
President Monson spoke on each element of this "blueprint." Of fasting, he said: "This portion of the blueprint is personified in the account found in Isaiah titled the 'True Fast.'
"'Is not this the fast that I have chosen?...
"'To deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?...
"'And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday:
"'And the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought,...and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not" (Isaiah 58:6, 10, 11).
In testifying to the Nephites, the prophet Alma declared, "Behold, I have fasted and prayed many days that I might know these things of myself. And now I do know of myself that they are true; for the Lord God hath made them manifest unto me by his Holy Spirit; and this is the spirit of revelation, which is in me" (Alma 5:46).
And the Savior Himself counseled His disciples to "be not as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance ... but when thou fastest, anoint thine head and wash thy face" (Matthew 6:16-17).
It can easily be seen from the scriptures and especially from Jesus' words that it is more important to obtain the true spirit of love for God and man, "purity of heart and simplicity of intention," than it is to carry out the cold hard letter of the law (Gospel Doctrine, p. 243).
Each of us hopes our prayers and fasting result in the same assurances that Alma felt following his actions. We are encouraged by our leaders that our fasting does help us both physically and spiritually and that we, too, can gain insights into our concerns as we deal daily with challenges.
President Spencer W. Kimball said, "In the 58th chapter of Isaiah, rich promises are made by the Lord to those who fast and assist the needy. Freedom from frustrations, freedom from thralldom, and the blessing of peace are promised. Inspiration and spiritual guidance will come with righteousness and closeness to our Heavenly Father" (Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 144).
The Apostle Paul wrote, "Be perfected, be comforted, be of one mind, live in peace and the God of love and peace will be with you" (2 Corinthians 13:11).
Fasting and praying with purposeful intent and then following up those actions with continued effort on our part will do much to bring us closer to God and help us discern His will for us and our fellow human beings.