“How can we feel the joy and rejoicing the scriptures equate with fasting?” Ensign, Oct. 1993, 61–62
Lori Robertson, first counselor in the Young Women presidency, Rexburg Seventeenth Ward, Rexburg Idaho Stake. One of the things I looked forward to at the time of my baptism was the opportunity to start fasting with my parents on fast Sundays. Yet there were times in my early teenage years when fasting to me seemed more a burden to be endured than a cause for rejoicing.
On the surface, equating fasting with rejoicing seems contradictory, for our fasts are often prompted by unpleasant or stressful circumstances such as a drought, a less-active or seriously ill loved one, or a pressing need for personal revelation or moral strength. Of course, if we go about fasting the wrong way—having no clear purpose in mind, going without two meals and drink just because that is expected on fast Sundays—the joy of fasting will entirely elude us. We will be “as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance, … that they may appear unto other men to fast” in order to receive a strictly earthly “reward.” (3 Ne. 13:16.) So our challenge is to fast in a manner that includes rejoicing with glad hearts and countenances—even though we may be weighed down by problems or concerns for which we need the Lord’s help. (See D&C 59:14–15; 3 Ne. 13:17–18.) How can we go about this?
Among the benefits of fasting are increased self-control and the knowledge that we can do something that the world considers difficult. President David O. McKay said: “‘He who reigns within himself and rules passions, desires and fears is more than a king.’ If there were no other virtues in fasting but gaining strength of character, that alone would be sufficient justification for its universal acceptance.” (As quoted in Roy Doxey, Latter-day Prophets and the Doctrine and Covenants, 4 vols., Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1978, 3:185.) As we come to know that we can control our passions and appetites, we receive joy.
Another source of joy in fasting is receiving the blessings we are seeking or anticipating those blessings in full confidence. Fasting demonstrates to the Lord that we have a measure of faith in him and that we humbly recognize our dependence on him.
By reading of wonderful examples in the scriptures of efficacious fasts, we can know that our fasting in the proper manner likewise will be rewarded. Because he knew the Lord had answered his prayers, Alma rejoiced when his son, though struck dumb by the Lord, was brought to him. (See Mosiah 27:19–20.) Alma then fasted for two days with a clear purpose: that his son would be restored from his debilitation and that others would “know of the goodness and glory of God.” (Mosiah 27:22–23.)
The fasting and prayers on Alma the Younger’s behalf bore fruit and were a cause of great rejoicing—not only for father and son but also for the other witnesses of that remarkable rebirth. Yet there is always cause for joy during our fasts, for that is when we draw closer to the Lord. The veil can become thin, and humbly we bask in the rich influence of the Spirit, having the sure knowledge that our petitions are more likely to be in harmony with the Lord’s will and that our “performance may be for the welfare of [our] soul” and for others. (2 Ne. 32:9.)
As a youth I participated in special fasts held for sick or injured members of my ward. It increased my testimony of fasting to see so many healed. Whenever I was faced with a major decision, I sought my father’s advice. His advice has always been, “Fast and pray about it.” I cannot remember needing to go to him for further guidance after following that counsel. On one occasion a special family fast was held for my husband when he faced a difficult task. When he succeeded with superior results, we knew the honor belonged to the Lord; our hearts were filled with joy and thanksgiving.
Even if the answers to our prayerful fast are sometimes no, we need not despair. We can still be filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit and feel the joy of knowing the Lord’s will.
No matter the reason for our fasts, we can feel great joy in the presence of the Savior. Jesus taught that the way to have him with us was through fasting. He told the scribes and Pharisees that his disciples did not fast because he was yet with them. But there would come a time, he explained, when he would be gone and his disciples would then have to fast for his presence. (See Luke 5:33–35.)
In D&C 59:13, footnote 13a provides insight into the meaning of the word fasting in that verse: “hungering and thirsting after righteousness.” It is interesting that part of earnestly seeking righteousness is to suppress our physical hunger and thirst and to replace that desire with a fervent spiritual desire. To the Nephites, Jesus said, “Blessed are all they who do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled with the Holy Ghost.” (3 Ne. 12:6.)
It is being thus filled that causes the soul to rejoice. If there is sorrow, the Lord will provide comfort. He gives answers to our questions and confirms our testimonies. When we approach the Lord in fasting and prayer, we can be of glad countenance because we know that whatever the outcome, we will be blessed with the joy of the Spirit.
When our hearts are full of gratitude for the Lord’s goodness, fasting is an effective way to rejoice in him. Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote, “[Fasting] is itself a form of the true worship of God.” (Mormon Doctrine, 2d ed., Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966, p. 276.) On an occasion when the Nephites were again delivered from their enemies, “they gave thanks unto the Lord … and … did fast much and pray much, and they did worship God with exceedingly great joy.” (Alma 45:1.)
We can also feel joy and rejoicing when we give a fast offering. By giving generous fast offerings, we fulfill the Lord’s command to care for the poor and needy among us. I agree with Elder L. Tom Perry, who quoted Elder Marion G. Romney as saying, “You cannot give to the Church and to the building up of the kingdom of God and be … poorer financially.” (Ensign, May 1986, p. 32.) When we are generous, the Lord’s blessings to us increase.
Whenever we fast, it is hoped that we will prepare our hearts with faith to be of glad countenance and to receive the Lord’s Spirit, that our “fasting may be perfect” and our joy full. (D&C 59:13.)