[This post is excerpts from an LDS sacrament meeting talk on fasting a friend of mine gave. These are not my thoughts but this is almost exactly the way I believed as a Mormon. The speaker is an strong example of typical LDS faith, and I thought this might be of interest to the discussion of the similarities and differences between Evangelicalism and LDS Christianity.
The LDS set aside one Sunday per month to fast for a chosen purpose. A “fast” consists of going 24 hours without eating or drinking or skipping two meals. The money saved by not eating is donated to the needy through the church welfare system. The program was instituted as a way to generate money for the poor. The talk began with a discussion of the historical practice of fasting in the bible and in the history of the LDS church and then turns to picking either a spiritual or a temporal purpose for the monthly fast. ]
. . . Here’s how I might go about thinking through picking a temporal purpose for a fast. I would ask myself these two questions: (1) Is this something God is capable of helping me with? (2) Is this something he even cares about?
First of all, what is God’s purpose? To bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man — that is his focus. To accomplish this on this earth, he set up 2 things. First, free agency. We know that before this earth was created, Satan wanted God to have complete power to control our decisions on this earth. Christ’s plan was to give us that power. And God went with Christ’s plan. Which is remarkable, because in doing so, he consciously limited himself.
With free agency, he can’t force me to get out of bed, or go to work, or take care of my kids. He can’t force an employer to hire me – or to not fire me. He can’t stop a man from abusing his wife. He can’t stop war, or disease. He can’t stop Donald Trump from getting on TV or will the BYU Cougars to win a game in the NCAA tournament. Because we, individually and collectively, all 7 billion of us, are the decision makers on this earth. We decide who gets rich, and who doesn’t. We decide who wins wars, and who doesn’t. We decide who goes to jail and who doesn’t. Not God. It’s the primary explanation for why a loving God would allow all the temporal pain and injustice that happens in this world. It’s part of a larger plan we accepted prior to coming to this earth – with all of its risks and temporal inequalities.
But then there is the atonement. To counterbalance the restrictions on his temporal power, God expanded his spiritual power. With free agency, but no atonement, we would all be in trouble. Where we ask for peace even though we don’t deserve it, God wouldn’t be able to provide any. When we feel guilt, and want forgiveness, he couldn’t help. When we feel worthless – for very real reasons – he wouldn’t be able to tell us that there is another chance. When we are suffering spiritually, he wouldn’t be able to help us manage the pain. With Christ’s sacrifice, he gained infinite power to bless us with the fruits of the spirit. Free agency causes the pain that we often experience here on this earth, but the atonement can take it away.
So it makes me wonder when we pick temporal purposes for a fast, and are consciously asking for things in an area where god has chosen to limit himself, what kind of results do we expect? I have seen people fast to decide whether to take a job, whether to pursue a career, whether to move to a specific state, whether to have another child, whether to marry a specific person.
Does God care?
It may be in many cases that God does not. That its up to us to guide ourselves. And if guidance doesn’t come – or comes in a way that is confusing, or results in a future that we aren’t happy with, just know that many of the outcomes of these decisions do not have eternal implications, and may not be under his control.
I only say that because I have seen people be disappointed in this area, and have either blamed their own faith, or, at times, God for the disappointment. But maybe we need to more closely examine whether or not it is even wise to ask God for certain things, and manage our expectations in these areas.
Which brings me to one of the main temporal purposes that people fast for. People who are sick. I think fasting for someone who is sick, is a very worthwhile purpose. Especially as an expression of sorrow. Of solidarity. Of compassion. But I have been involved in many of these types of fasts, and as many times as I have seen positive physical outcomes associated with these fasts, I have seen disappointment, from a temporal perspective. I would recommend not focusing your request in these cases on a physical outcome, but on the spiritual fruits of longsuffering, peace and compassion that I have inevitably found come from these types of fasts. Because this is where God has total and infinite control. In the spiritual realm.
Where our requests are focused on things like love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance. There we can know, that God can and wants to help us. This is God’s sweet spot. This is why he sent his beloved son – specifically so that he can answer these types of requests.
I was never blessed with the gift of faith. I’m a guy that challenged and questioned everything that was presented to me with respect to the Gospel. And was never sure of anything. But as an 18 year old, when it came time to make the decision on whether to go on a mission, I never asked God if I should go. I’m not sure why, but I think it was some combination of (1) I couldn’t conceive of a situation where God might tell me no. (2) If I did get an answer no, I wasn’t sure anyone would believe me (3) If I got no answer, or wasn’t sure, would I ever have the courage not to go? I didn’t think so. I was going on a mission.
And I found myself in the Missionary Training Center, preparing to go out into the world, to testify of something that frankly I wasn’t sure of. And I felt terrified. I didn’t know how I was going to make it through my mission. And so I fasted. And I prayed. And I asked God. Please, send me your fruits. Send me the fruit of faith.
And I remember the moment. It was a remarkable moment. Overpowering. Where the spirit poured into me. Even though I didn’t deserve it. It was joy, it was peace, and it was faith. And that response to my humble request, carried me throughout my mission, as I testified to others of the gospel. Just like Alma the Younger later said “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” (Alma 5:46).
And I can testify, that if you make your purpose a spiritual one, God will deliver. I have had these fruits come to me in my life, consistently, those times I have humbled myself enough to request them. I do have faith that if we focus our fasts on the spiritual, God has infinite power to bless us.
When I fasted in the MTC, I was fasting for myself. I wasn’t thinking about anyone else. I wanted to avoid the spiritual pain of facing the mission field without a testimony. But as my faith matured, my purpose in my fasts began to focus on the spiritual needs of others.
But one thing I have noticed – it is far more powerful to ask God to help us find ways to help others, than for us to simply ask him to do it himself. Let’s say you have a friend or sibling who is need of the fruits of the spirit. How would we frame that purpose, or request? When we fast.
One way is to simply say, dear God, please send peace to my brother. Or joy to my friend. Or longsuffering to my neighbor. Or temperance to my child. And I do think that God has the power to intervene spiritually in many cases where we ask for it. But I think a more powerful and effective way to frame that request, is to ask God to give you his Spirit, and the guidance, so that you can find a way to help that person spiritually. So if I have a brother, that is struggling with spiritual pain, simply asking God to intervene, is not as powerful as asking for guidance on how I can intervene in a way that helps my brother.
As we grow more spiritually mature, we begin fasting for others – not passively, asking God to do the work, but actively, asking him to guide and support us to find ways to help them ourselves.
This is what Christ fasted for. And as he fasted, and was tempted by Satan with the fruits of the earth – whether it be bread, or worldly acknowledgment or power over the earth, he rejected all of those in favor of the spiritual fruits, not because he himself needed faith, or temperance, or longsuffering for himself – but he was fasting to understand how he could bring those fruits to others. When we can get to that state we are finally using the fast to become truly charitable, to become true partners with God,
I don’t think there is any shame in simply beginning your fast with a prayer, missing your meals, and picking no other purpose than recognizing the poor and paying a generous fast. No shame in that. Generating fast offerings is the primary reason this commandment was established in modern times. But it can be more. Fasting is one of our most powerful opportunities to disrupt our selfish purposes, our temporal needs, and focus on eternal possibilities.
If you are challenged with coming up with a purpose, just go down the list of the fruits of the spirit: Longsuffering, gentleness, meekness, temperance, joy, faith. Maybe start with a simple fast for gratitude. Are you grateful enough for all that you have? Even secular psychology points to the remarkable impact that sincere gratitude can have on you spiritually to benefit every aspect of your life.
We have 12 proscribed opportunities to do so each year. Plan ahead. Pick 6 for yourself, 6 for others. Fast for the ability to help someone in your life feel gratitude, or temperance, or meekness. When you are going through your life, think about what spiritual help you or others might need from the lord, and note it down as an opportunity to fast when the time arises. But don’t feel like you have to complicate it. Honestly, if you fasted for something as simple as gratitude – or faith – every single fast for 12 months straight, it would make an incredible difference in your life.
And who knows, maybe you will catch fire – like any exercise, as you do more of it, it becomes something you rely on, relish, depend on. You might become like the Nephites, did in Heleman 3: where it says they did fast and pray oft, and did wax stronger and stronger in their humility, and firmer and firmer in the faith of Christ, unto the filling their souls with joy and consolation, yea, even to the purifying and the sanctification of their hearts, which sanctification cometh because of their yielding their hearts unto God.
That would be my hope and prayer for all of us. And I leave that with you in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.