The Law of the Fast
The great lessons of the scriptures teach us over and over again how foolish it is for mankind to desert the ways of the Lord and rely on the arm of flesh. One of the certainties of life is that mankind, individually and collectively, will cycle through their mortal experience with periods of good and difficult times. How many of our family histories contain paragraphs similar to this?
“Economically, our family had its ups and downs. Like many Americans, we did well during the 1920s. My father started making lots of money in real estate, in addition to his other businesses. For a few years we were actually wealthy. But then came the Depression.
“No one who’s lived through it can ever forget. My father lost all his money, and we almost lost our house. I remember asking my sister, who was a couple of years older, whether we’d have to move out and how we’d find somewhere else to live. I was only six or seven at the time, but the anxiety I felt about the future is still vivid in my mind. Bad times are indelible—they stay with you forever.” (Lee Iacocca and William Novak, Iacocca: An Autobiography, New York: Bantam Books, 1984, p. 7.)
But as surely as we can rely on change being a part of life, there is also the absolute assurance that we are children of an eternal Father in Heaven. As the supreme example of a kind and loving father, He has charted a well-defined course for His children to follow, the destination of which is the blessing of returning to His presence.
He has marked the path with true principles, which will stand the test of time. In this session of general conference this afternoon, we have been reviewing welfare principles as they have been revealed to us for our application over the last fifty years.
There is one additional principle basic to this whole welfare plan which I would like to discuss with you this afternoon. It is the law of the fast. I always marvel as I study the principles the Lord has designed for us to follow how simple they are in concept, how easy they are to administer, and how compliance always brings forth additional blessings.
The law of the fast is basic in the Church. Isaiah declared:
“Is not this the fast that I have chosen?
“… Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry?” (Isa. 58:6–7.)
Like many other biblical practices, it was restored by the Lord in our day through the Prophet Joseph Smith.
The law of the fast has three great purposes. First, it provides assistance to the needy through the contribution of fast offerings, consisting of the value of meals from which we abstain. Second, a fast is beneficial to us physically. Third, it is to increase humility and spirituality on the part of each individual.
An important reason for fasting is to contribute the amount saved from the meals not eaten to care for the poor and the needy. One of the strongest admonitions the Lord has given to His children on earth is that we have the responsibility and obligation of caring for those in need. It was King Benjamin who said in his great address, “And now, for the sake of these things which I have spoken unto you—that is, for the sake of retaining a remission of your sins from day to day, that ye may walk guiltless before God—I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants.” (Mosiah 4:26.)
Do we need to be reminded that included in our baptismal covenant is our pledge to bear one another’s burdens that they may be light, to mourn with those that mourn, and to comfort those that stand in need of comfort? (See Mosiah 18:8–9.)
The longer I live, the more impressed I am with the Lord’s system of caring for the poor and needy. Surely no man would think of such a simple yet profound way of satisfying human needs—to grow spiritually and temporally through periodic fasting and then donating the amount saved from refraining from partaking of those meals to the bishop to be used to administer to the needs of the poor, the ill, the downtrodden, who need help and support to make their way through life.
It was President [J. Reuben] Clark who said: “The fundamental principle of all Church relief work is that it must be carried on by fast offerings and other voluntary donations and contributions. This is the order established by the Lord. Tithing is not primarily designed for that purpose and must not be used except in the last extremity.” (J. Reuben Clark, Jr., quoted in Marion G. Romney, “Our Primary Purpose,” address delivered in Welfare Agricultural Meeting, 3 Apr. 1971, p. 1.)
Through religious history we have found how the Lord blesses people when they reach out and care for the poor and the needy. Of the days of Hezekiah we read this in the scriptures:
“And concerning the children of Israel and Judah, … they also brought in the tithe of oxen and sheep, and the tithe of holy things which were consecrated unto the Lord their God, and laid them by heaps.
“And when Hezekiah and the princes came and saw the heaps, they blessed the Lord, and his people Israel.
“Then Hezekiah questioned with the priests and the Levites concerning the heaps.” (2 Chr. 31:6, 8–9.)
The answer was, “Since the people began to bring the offerings into the house of the Lord, we have had enough to eat, and have left plenty: for the Lord hath blessed his people; and that which is left is this great store.” (2 Chr. 31:10.)
We have said a lot today about President Romney and what he has declared about the welfare program. Could I add another statement:
“I am thoroughly in harmony with what the Bishop said about our need to contribute liberally to the fast-offerings fund and to every other fund that the Church officially calls upon us to contribute to. I am a firm believer that you cannot give to the Church and to the building up of the kingdom of God and be any poorer financially. I remember a long time ago, over 50 years, when Brother [Melvin J.] Ballard laid his hands on my head and set me apart to go on a mission. He said in that prayer of blessing that a person could not give a crust to the Lord without receiving a loaf in return. That’s been my experience. If the members of the Church would double their fast-offering contributions, the spirituality in the Church would double. We need to keep that in mind and be liberal in our contributions.” (Welfare Agricultural Meeting, 3 Apr. 1971, p. 1.)
With all these promises of the Lord over the expanse of man’s sojourn on earth, how shocking it is to find that sometimes it is necessary to use tithing funds of the Church to make up for deficits in our fast-offering contributions. Oh, where is our faith? Oh, how we deprive ourselves of the blessings of the Lord by not being generous in our fast-offering contributions.
Let us have the faith to bind the Lord to bless this people because we are following His order to care for the poor and the needy among us by being generous in our fast-offering contributions.
Fasting is also beneficial to us physically. Some time ago I read an article in Science News written by Charles L. Goodrich, which stated that the advantages of modern eating habits extend far beyond the cosmetic. Numerous animal studies have demonstrated that caloric restriction early in life leads to an increased life span and reduces the risk of certain diseases.
There is also evidence of health-promoting effects of periodic fasting. Some experiments have shown that periodic fasting not only promotes a longer life, but encourages a more vigorous activity later in life. (See Science News, 1 Dec. 1979, p. 375.)
Fasting is also one of the finest ways of developing our own discipline and self-control. Plato said, “The first and the best victory is to conquer self; to be conquered by self is, of all things, the most shameful and vile.” (Laws, Book I, section 626E.)
Fasting helps to teach us self-mastery. It helps us to gain the discipline we need to have control over ourselves.
Again we can conclude that if we are wise in following the Lord’s law of the fast, we too will receive benefits, physically.
Finally, let us examine the humility and spiritual strength derived from fasting. The Savior certainly recognized the need for this principle, for after His baptism we find the scriptures recording:
“And Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost returned from Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness,
“Being forty days tempted of the devil. And in those days he did eat nothing: and when they were ended, he afterward hungered.” (Luke 4:1–2.)
And the devil used all his cunning ways to tempt the Savior to abandon His mission. To this the Savior responded: “Get thee behind me, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.
“And when the devil had ended all the temptation, he departed from him for a season.
“And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee: and there went out a fame of him through all the region round about.” (Luke 4:8, 13–14.)
Fasting had blessed Him with the power of the Spirit.
There is also the account in the Book of Mormon of Alma as he traveled southward on his way to Manti. He was astonished to meet his friends, the sons of Mosiah, journeying toward the land of Zarahemla. It was a joyous meeting as they exchanged accounts of their missionary journeys. Alma was delighted to see how the sons of Mosiah had waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth. The scripture records:
“But this is not all; they had given themselves to much prayer, and fasting; therefore they had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and when they taught, they taught with power and authority of God.
“And they had been teaching the word of God for the space of fourteen years among the Lamanites, having had much success in bringing many to the knowledge of the truth; yea, by the power of their words many were brought before the altar of God, to call on his name and confess their sins before him.” (Alma 17:3–4.)
These are only two examples of the many we can find in the scriptures where fasting and prayer for a purpose bring forth a special spiritual power. This same blessing is available to each of us if we will only take advantage of it.
I would like to add my testimony this afternoon to the others who have given witness to the blessings of those who have given to and received from this great, inspired welfare services program over the last fifty years. My father was the bishop of our ward at the time of its announcement to the Church in April general conference of 1936. The world was struggling in the Great Depression. So many of the fathers of our ward were unemployed. In those days a dime for admission to a school activity would prevent many of my friends from attending because their parents could not afford even that small amount for their children’s enjoyment.
Because of my father’s calling as a bishop, I was able to gain an appreciation of the welfare program from its very beginning as I watched him administer to the needs of the poor in his ward with great love and tenderness. How often I raced home from school anticipating a planned activity. As I would round the corner of our home, there I would see sacks of flour, sugar, and other commodities. My heart would fall, as I knew it would be another evening out with Father as he delivered these commodities to those in need. The planned activity would have to be cancelled for that evening.
When he arrived home, I was always enlisted to help him put the commodities in the car and travel with him to make the deliveries. Sometimes I would grumble under my breath for having been so put upon, but then I would have the remarkable experience of watching the light come back into the eyes of a depressed family as food was brought into their home. I always returned home from those experiences with an exhilarated feeling of watching the Church in action as it was caring for its poor and its needy through fast offerings and good, kind priesthood leaders.
May the Lord continue to bless us with the faith to follow the inspired leadership He has provided for us here on earth that we may fulfill our obligations and responsibilities and be blessed by His hand, both spiritually and temporally, as we follow His plan, is my prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.