Friday, September 20, 2013

Why Do We Fast? Come Follow Me September

I don't mean for this post to be a doctrinal discourse of why members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints fast regularly.  These are just some of the thoughts I have had while preparing for my lesson this Sunday. You can find the lesson outline here.

What is fasting?
From True to the Faith, "to fast is to go without food and drink voluntarily for a certain period of time. Fasting combined with sincere prayer can help you prepare yourself and others to receive God’s blessings."

Carl B. Pratt, in a talk titled, The Blessings of a Proper Fast, quotes from President Joseph F. Smith and teaches that fasting is a commandment,
For those who are physically able, fasting is a commandment. Speaking of our monthly fast day, President Joseph F. Smith said: “The Lord has instituted the fast on a reasonable and intelligent basis. … Those who can are required to comply … ; it is a duty from which they cannot escape; … it is left with the people as a matter of conscience, to exercise wisdom and discretion. …
“But those should fast who can. … None are exempt from this; it is required of the Saints, old and young, in every part of the Church” (Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. [1939], 244).

Examples of the Spiritual Strength Received After Fasting
  • Esther 4:10–17 - Esther, her maidens and all of the Jews in Shushan fast for three days and three nights.  Esther in return receives great courage and ultimately achieves what she desires - she and her people are not destroyed.
  • Matthew 4:1–11 - Jesus Christ separates himself from others and fasts for 40 days and nights.  He is able to resit the temptations of the devil and angels minister unto him.
  • Alma 17:1–3, 9 - The sons of Mosiah fasted and prayed much for the spirit to abide with them. They in turn had "the spirit of prophecy, the spirit of revelation, and ... they taught with power and authority of God".
  • D&C 59:12–14 - Fasting and prayer = Your "joy may be full".
From these 4 scripture references we learn that through fasting we can:
1. gain courage to stand up for what we know is right and just, even in the face of great danger or embarrassment.
2. be able to resist the temptations of the devil and have angels minister to us.
3. have the spirit with us, receive direction for our lives through the spirit, and be able to teach others by the spirit.
4. have full joy.

What a Proper Fast Includes

Isaiah 58:7 - I don't always almost never understand Isaiah, but after reading this passage at least 10 times, it started to make sense to me.  I just had to break it down....way down.  

In verse 7, we learn that a proper fast includes taking care of those who are less fortunate than we are.
Is it not to deal thy bread to the ahungry, and that thou bring the bpoor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from cthine own flesh?
In True to the Faith we read that as members of the church, we are asked to fast the first Sunday of each month.  A proper fast includes not eating or drinking for two consecutive meals, attending your church meeting, in addition to paying fast offerings.
"The Church designates one Sunday each month, usually the first Sunday, as a day of fasting. Proper observance of fast Sunday includes going without food and drink for two consecutive meals, attending fast and testimony meeting, and giving a fast offering to help care for those in need. 
Your fast offering should be at least the value of the two meals you do not eat. When possible, be generous and give much more than this amount. 
In addition to observing the fast days set aside by Church leaders, you can fast on any other day, according to your needs and the needs of others. However, you should not fast too frequently or for excessive periods of time."
This brings up a good point I would like to address with the Young Women in my class.  At what age do they think it is appropriate to start paying their own fast offerings.  I think this is a personal decision that will vary greatly from girl to girl, but I do believe that it is something that 14 and 15 year old girls can start thinking about.

I also feel it is important to discuss with my girls that not all people can or should fast in the way we usually talk about.  Women who are pregnant or nursing should not go without eating for extended periods of time. People with medical issues or those who must take medications that require it to be taken with food, cannot go without something in their stomach for that long also.  But even the individuals in these situations can "fast" as they find ways to help their spirits learn to control their physical appetites.  As they prayerfully ponder on ways to do this, the Lord will help them know that their fast is acceptable.

In Matthew 6:16–18 we also learn what a proper fast should not "look" like,
"16 Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to afast. Verily I say unto you, They bhave their reward.
17 But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face;
18 That thou appear not unto men to afast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shallbreward thee openly."
Or in other words, when you're fasting don't complain about how hungry you are.  Also, refrain from announcing to everyone within listening distance how righteous you are because you are fasting.  Fasting, even when done with a group for a specific reason, is a private matter.  Rather, as the Lord instructs us in the above verses, we should say a prayer, wash our face (basically, look your best), and find a good positive attitude to carry us through our fast.  If we do this, we will receive the promised blessings from our Heavenly Father.

Blessings of Fasting

Isaiah 58:3–12 In verse 5, we read: Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul?

Afflict our own souls.  This phrase really struck me.  When I fast, I am purposely afflicting my body with discomfort. My body says, "Feed me!  You are going to starve to death.  If you ignore me, I will grumble loudly during Sunday School and you will be embarrassed!" and my spirit replies, "You are fine.  I am trying to teach you that you are not in control.  Stop grumbling and learn from this".  

Later in verses 6, 8 and 11, we learn more about the blessings that come from fasting.
 Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the abands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go bfree, and that ye break every yoke?
 ¶Then shall thy alight break forth as the morning, and thine bhealth shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy crearward.
 11 And the Lord shall aguide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in bdrought, and cmake fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a dspring of water, whose waters fail not.
We learn that by fasting, we loose the bands of wickedness, and set ourselves free from whatever bondage in which we find ourselves trapped - we break the yoke.  We are promised that our health will be good and that the Lord will be our guard.  We will be guided by him continually and he will fill us when we are lacking, whether temporally or spiritually.

 It talks here about watering a garden during drought and making our bones fat. I'd like to pass on the fat bones promise please!  I'm kidding.  I know it is not in a literal sense, more I believe it means that we will have the strength we need to perform our labors and we will have his spirit with us to comfort us.

Fasting for Others

In addition to fasting for our own struggles and problems, we can fast for others as well.

Mosiah 27:18–24 - This is the account of Alma the Younger after he sees an angel and is stricken dumb and has no strength.  After he is taken to his father, his father and the priests fast and pray for Alma the Younger to be restored to good health.  They also ask that the experience might help those around them - "that the eyes of the people might be opened to see and know of the goodness and glory of God."

We are to fast and pray not only for the missionaries who are serving full-time missions, but we should fast and pray for missionary experiences of our own.

Alma 6:6 - Nevertheless the children of God were commanded that they should gather themselves together oft, and join in afasting and mighty prayer in behalf of the welfare of the souls of those who knew not God.

Fasting Strengthens our Testimony

I used this first scripture back in June during my Testimony devotional for Girl's Camp.

Alma 5:45–46 - Even the prophets of God have to fast and pray many days to gain their testimonies.
Behold, I say unto you they are made aknown unto me by the Holy Spirit of God. Behold, I have bfasted 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 ofcrevelation which is in me.

Helaman 3:35 - This is a great scripture!  I broke this one down into several parts.  I think I will spend quite a bit of time discussing this one with the girls and getting their thoughts on how these all fit together and bring about sanctification and yielding their hearts unto God.
Nevertheless they did afast and bpray oft, and did wax stronger and stronger in their chumility, and firmer and firmer in the faith of Christ, unto the filling their souls with joy and consolation, yea, even to the dpurifying and the esanctification of their hearts, which sanctification cometh because of their fyielding their hearts unto God. 

did wax stronger and stronger in their humility - Fasting humbles us.  It allows our spirits to subdue the "natural man" appetites of the body.  Being humble softens our hearts which opens us to being teachable by the Spirit and capable of making lasting changes through the atonement of Jesus Christ.

firmer and firmer in the faith of Christ - When our faith is firm and built upon Christ we are able to stand confidently for our beliefs.

unto the filling their souls with joy and consolation - When we are humble and full of the Spirit and firm in our faith in Christ, our souls are joyful and at peace.  We know that life may not always be fair and easy, but we have hope and confidence in good things to come and find joy and contentment in our daily blessings.

even to the purifying and the sanctification of their hearts - Purifying and Sanctification, these are some big idea words.  As far as I can understand, "purifying ... of their hearts" means a cleansing of the heart. Removing sins, struggles and hard feelings, basically repentance.  A "sanctification of their hearts" was a little harder.  I had to look up a few references for sanctification and found a quote by Elder D. Todd Christofferson,

"To be sanctified through the blood of Christ is to become clean, pure, and holy. If justification removes the punishment for past sin, then sanctification removes the stain or effects of sin."
I believe that the sanctification of our hearts occurs after our hearts are purified and after we allow the atonement to change us.  Sanctification is where we are made holy - our hearts are changed.  "We have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually."

But as the original scripture concludes, ("which sanctification cometh because of their yielding their hearts unto God") this can only be done if we will turn our will over to God.  We practice this when we fast.  We teach our body to obey the will of our spirit in preparation to turning our will to God. 

What are your thoughts on fasting?  I would love to hear them, especially if someone understands sanctification better than I do.

There is also a great article in the New Era that you could use for this lesson called, Blessings of Fasting.

fasting images

Just download the .pdf file of the article and then set your print it out 2 sheets per page, so that it looks like this:

Then run it through the printer again, but print on the opposite side this time.  You'll end up with a 1/2 sheet insert for your study journals.

Also, some more great handouts for this lesson can be found online.  

Like this one from All Things Bright and Beautiful

or from The Idea Door
Why do we fast 2 sm

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