To underscore the power and blessings of proper fasting and to capture his listeners' attention, a Church leader posed a pair of potent questions.
“What if there were a way to overcome any bad habits, addictions or burdens that you have?” Elder Shayne M. Bowen, a General Authority Seventy, asked LDS Business College students during a Tuesday, May 28, devotional. “What if there were a way to gain such confidence in the Lord that you could call down the powers of heaven and know that He is there guiding your footsteps?"
He posed additional questions and problems people might face during mortal life: overwhelmed by failure, sensing a lack of self control, feeling distant from God and family and dealing with strong temptations.
But for all all of these, he said, "there is a way."
Testifying of the power of fasting and how to receive the blessings promised to those who live the law of the fast, Elder Bowen confirmed the way to overcome the challenges of life, which requires some action.
Latter-day Saints need to develop the spiritual strength to receive the promised blessings from the Lord, he said, adding that miracles are available to those who are obedient, work hard and put their faith in the Lord.
“A person who can discipline himself to fast on a regular basis in the way that God has designed can resist every temptation, overcome any burden and be set free from any yoke that binds him.”
The law of the fast is a precious tool Heavenly Father has given to change lives, overcome the natural man and build faith in the Lord — and it might be one of the most often neglected tools people have, Elder Bowen said.
“It is my desire to help each of us more fully understand and receive the blessings and power that God intended through the exercise of this powerful tool.”
He listed six principles of fasting.
Principle 1: A true fast requires more than just going without food.
Isaiah 58:6-11 shares specific blessings available to God's children if done the way He has shown, with fasting inviting Jesus Christ to free people from the bands of wickedness, lift heavy burdens and let the oppressed go free.
“If a person fasts properly and consistently, he can overcome any bad habit, sin or addiction that burdens his life,” Elder Bowen said. “Is there anyone who would not want to be freed from the personal burdens that they are carrying? Fasting allows us to avail ourselves of this cleansing and purifying power.”
Principle 2: A generous fast offering blesses others.
Verses 7 and 10 of the aforementioned passage teach one of the most basic elements of a fast — caring for the poor and needy through a fast offering, that when someone blesses others, God blesses them.
Principle 3: One will be enlightened and have the companionship of the Holy Ghost when fasting.
“Not only does the Lord promise the power to overcome all of our sins but also promises light, health and righteousness in our lives,” Elder Bowen said.
Principle 4: Fasting allows an individual's spirit to subdue “the natural man,” thus inviting the Spirit of the Holy Ghost.
Proper fasting requires discipline and helps overcome the natural man, said Elder Bowen, telling how the human body was created in a special way so people can experience a spiritual victory over the natural man each time they properly fast.
Citing Dr. Siegfried Hayden of the Duke University Department of Community and Family Medicine, Elder Bowen explained the body uses different energy sources after a person begins a fast. After 24 hours of fasting, the body turns to an energy source producing ketone bodies, which have the ability to reduce appetite.
“After 24 hours of fasting without food or drink, the body — the natural man — submits to the spirit, or spiritual man,” Elder Bowen said. “When the spiritual man is victorious, we experience greater sensitivity to the Holy Ghost.”
Principle 5: Fasting intensifies prayer
“In the scriptures alone, I have found at least 35 references to fasting,” he said. “Eighteen of those, more than half, link fasting to prayer. Proper fasting magnifies our ability to study, pray and teach.”
Principle 6: Bearing a personal testimony is part of an ideal fast.
Elder Bowen shared insights from President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency, on how fasting helps Latter-day Saints keep their covenant to bear testimony. Those who properly fast won’t need to be reminded how to bear a testimony if they feel impressed to do so; they will be close enough to the Spirit to know what to say.
The model fast
To incorporate the six principles into an ideal fast, Elder Bowen offered an 11-step plan to claim the promised blessings of fasting:
1. Plan for each upcoming fast by meditating on the purpose of the fast.
2. Begin each fast with a kneeling prayer. Tell God the purpose of the fast.
3. Go 24 hours without food or drink.
4. Use hunger pains as a reminder to pray again about the purpose of the fast.
5. Express more gratitude through prayer.
6. Give a generous fast offering.
7. When prompted, bear a brief testimony in fast and testimony meeting.
8. Focus on reverent contemplation while fasting.
9. Study the scriptures in the time that would have been spent eating.
10. End each fast with a kneeling prayer.
11. Commit to be a better person and make plans with God for how to improve.
As additional reading, Elder Bowen offered copies of a 2009 Ensign article he wrote as students departed. Titled "Fasting with Power," it is a condensed version of his devotional message.
“Fasting is a principle of power,” Elder Bowen concluded. “He wants us to return to His presence. He is our Father, Jesus Christ is our Brother, and His Atonement is real. They have provided ‘every needful thing’ to allow us ‘to break every yoke’ and return home.”