“The True Law of the Fast, with Its Purposes and Attendant Blessings, Is Set Forth”

Isaiah 58:3–12

3 Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and thou seest not? wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge? Behold, in the day of your fast ye find pleasure, and exact all your labours.
4 Behold, ye fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness: ye shall not fast as ye do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high.
5 Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the Lord?
6 Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?
7 Is it not 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?
8 Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy rearward.
9 Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity;
10 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:
11 And the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.
12 And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in.

Elder Carl B. Pratt said:

“Fasting has always been a practice among God’s people. In our day it is a commandment given by the Lord to all members of the Church. In addition to occasional special fasts that we might have for personal or family reasons, we are expected to fast once a month on the first Sunday. 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. . . .

“For those who are physically able, fasting is a commandment. . . .

“I fear . . . that too many of us are either not fasting on fast day or we are doing so in a lackadaisical manner. If we are guilty of taking our fast day for granted or simply fasting Sunday morning instead of making it two complete meals—24 hours—we are depriving ourselves and our families of the choice spiritual experiences and blessings that can come from a true fast.

“If all we do is abstain from food and drink for 24 hours and pay our fast offering, we have missed a wonderful opportunity for spiritual growth. On the other hand, if we have a special purpose in our fasting, the fast will have much more meaning. . . . When we fast with purpose, we have something to focus our attention on besides our hunger.

“The purpose of our fast may be a very personal one. Fasting can help us overcome personal flaws and sins. It can help us overcome our weaknesses—help them become strengths. Fasting can help us become more humble, less prideful, less selfish, and more concerned about the needs of others. It can help us see more clearly our own mistakes and weaknesses and help us be less prone to criticize others. Or our fast may have a focus on a family challenge. A family fast might help increase love and appreciation among family members and reduce the amount of contention in the family, or we might fast as a couple to strengthen our marriage bonds. . . .

“Throughout the scriptures the term fasting is usually combined with prayer. ‘Ye shall continue in prayer and fasting from this time forth’ is the Lord’s counsel (D&C 88:76). Fasting without prayer is just going hungry for 24 hours. But fasting combined with prayer brings increased spiritual power. . . .

“After chastising ancient Israel for fasting improperly, the Lord, through the prophet Isaiah, speaks in beautiful poetic language of a proper fast:

“‘Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?’ (Isa. 58:6).

“If we fast and pray with the purpose of repenting of sins and overcoming personal weaknesses, surely we are seeking to ‘loose the bands of wickedness’ in our lives. If the purpose of our fast is to be more effective in teaching the gospel and serving others in our Church callings, we are surely striving to ‘undo the heavy burdens’ of others. If we are fasting and praying for the Lord’s help in our missionary efforts, aren’t we desiring to ‘let the oppressed go free’? If the purpose of our fast is to increase our love for our fellow man and overcome our selfishness, our pride, and having our hearts set upon the things of this world, surely we are seeking to ‘break every yoke.’

The Lord continues describing the proper fast:

“‘Is it not 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?’ (Isa. 58:7).

“It is truly a wonderful thing that through our fast offerings today we can feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, and clothe the naked.

“If we fast properly the Lord promises:

“‘Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; . . .

“‘Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. . . .

“‘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’ (Isa. 58:8–11).

“It is my prayer that we can improve our fasts so that we can enjoy these beautiful promised blessings. It is my testimony that as we ‘draw near’ to the Lord through our fasting and prayer, He will ‘draw near’ to us (see D&C 88:63).”

(“The Blessings of a Proper Fast,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2004, 47–49.)

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