Chapter 12: Prayer and Fasting

“Chapter 12: Prayer and Fasting,” Doctrines of the Gospel Student Manual (2000), 32–34

“12: Prayer and Fasting,” Doctrines of the Gospel Student Manual, 32–34

Chapter 12

Prayer and Fasting


A Church hymn proclaims, “Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire, / Uttered or unexpressed” (Hymns, no. 145). These lyrics express the innate longing we all have to communicate with our Heavenly Father. Fasting combined with prayer will increase our spirituality and draw us closer to God.

Doctrinal Outline

  1. Prayer has been a part of the gospel plan from the beginning.

    See Moses 5:8.

  2. God has revealed why we should pray to Him.

    1. It is a commandment to pray, both individually and in families (see D&C 31:12; 68:33; 3 Nephi 18:21; D&C 93:50; 68:28).

    2. Prayer is essential to salvation (see Alma 37:36–37; James 5:16).

    3. Adoration and worship are expressed through prayer (see D&C 136:28; Psalm 92:1).

    4. We are commanded to thank the Lord for all our blessings (see D&C 46:32; 59:7).

    5. Temporal and spiritual blessings can be obtained through prayer (see James 5:16–18; Enos 1:4–6; Mosiah 24:8–25).

  3. The scriptures tell us what we should pray for.

    1. We should pray for the companionship of the Holy Ghost (see 3 Nephi 19:9; Moroni 4:3).

    2. We should pray for forgiveness of our sins (see Joseph Smith—History 1:28–29).

    3. We should ask for strength to resist temptation and overcome opposition (see Alma 34:23; D&C 10:5; Matthew 26:41).

    4. Husbands should pray for their wives and children (see 3 Nephi 18:21; Alma 34:21, 27).

    5. We should pray for all people—both righteous and wicked, friend and enemy (see Numbers 21:7; Matthew 5:44; Enos 1:11–14).

    6. We should petition the Lord concerning our crops, herds, fields, and flocks (see Alma 34:20, 24–25).

  4. The Lord has told us how to make our prayers more meaningful and effective.

    1. We are always to pray to the Father in the name of Jesus Christ (see 2 Nephi 32:9; 3 Nephi 18:21; 19:6–8).

    2. We do not pray in order to be seen and heard by others (see Matthew 6:5–6; 3 Nephi 13:5–6).

    3. We should avoid vain repetitions when we pray (see Matthew 6:7–8; 3 Nephi 13:7–8).

    4. We should pray daily and continuously (see Mosiah 4:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:17; 2 Nephi 32:9; Alma 34:17–19, 27).

    5. We should pray for what is proper (see 3 Nephi 18:20; D&C 88:64; 46:30).

    6. Our petitions should be offered earnestly, sincerely, with real intent, and with all the energy and strength of our souls (see Moroni 7:48; 10:4).

    7. Obedience helps us obtain answers to prayer (see 1 John 3:22; Alma 34:28).

    8. The Holy Ghost will help us in our prayers (see Romans 8:26).

  5. Fasting should sometimes accompany prayer.

    1. We are commanded to fast (see D&C 59:13–14; 88:76).

    2. Together, fasting and prayer foster spiritual growth and conviction, and bring blessings (see Omni 1:26; Alma 5:46; 17:3; Helaman 3:35; 3 Nephi 27:1; Isaiah 58:1–12; Matthew 17:20–21).

    3. It is proper to fast for the sick and for special blessings (see James 5:15; Mosiah 27:22–23).

Small boy praying at bedside

Supporting Statements

  1. Prayer has been a part of the gospel plan from the beginning.

    • “No divine commandment has been more frequently repeated than the commandment to pray in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” (Marion G. Romney, in Conference Report, Oct. 1979, 20; or Ensign, Nov. 1979, 16).

  2. God has revealed why we should pray to Him.

    • “This course [prayer] is essential if men are to be saved; there is no salvation without prayer. How could a man set his heart on righteousness, so as to work out his salvation, without communing by prayer with him who is the author of righteousness?” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 581).

    • “An important key is turned when we go through the formality of stating our desires to Him who can grant them” (Boyd K. Packer, Teach Ye Diligently, 12).

    • “Observe that great commandment given of the Master, always to remember the Lord, to pray in the morning, and in the evening, and always remember to thank him for the blessings that you receive day by day” (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, 218).

  3. The scriptures tell us what we should pray for.

    • “We would say to the brethren, seek to know God in your closets, call upon him in the fields. Follow the directions of the Book of Mormon, and pray over, and for your families, your cattle, your flocks, your herds, your corn, and all things that you possess; ask the blessing of God upon all your labors, and everything that you engage in. Be virtuous and pure; be men of integrity and truth; keep the commandments of God; and then you will be able more perfectly to understand the difference between right and wrong—between the things of God and the things of men; and your path will be like that of the just, which shineth brighter and brighter unto the perfect day” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 247).

  4. The Lord has told us how to make our prayers more meaningful and effective.

    • “It was a prayer, a very special prayer, which opened this whole dispensation! It began with a young man’s first vocal prayer. I hope that not too many of our prayers are silent, even though when we cannot pray vocally, it is good to offer a silent prayer in our hearts and in our minds” (Spencer W. Kimball, in Conference Report, Oct. 1979, 4; or Ensign, Nov. 1979, 4).

    • “Do you have prayers in your family? … And when you do, do you go through the operation like the grinding of a piece of machinery, or do you bow in meekness and with a sincere desire to seek the blessing of God upon you and your household? That is the way that we ought to do, and cultivate a spirit of devotion and trust in God, dedicating ourselves to him, and seeking his blessings” (John Taylor, The Gospel Kingdom, 284).

    • “Answers to prayers come in a quiet way. The scriptures describe that voice of inspiration as a still, small voice.

      “If you really try, you can learn to respond to that voice.

      “In the early days of our marriage, our children came at close intervals. As parents of little children will know, in those years it is quite a novelty for them to get an uninterrupted night of sleep.

      “If you have a new baby, and another youngster cutting teeth, or one with a fever, you can be up and down a hundred times a night. (That, of course, is an exaggeration. It’s probably only twenty or thirty times.)

      “We finally divided our children into ‘his’ and ‘hers’ for night tending. She would get up for the new baby, and I would tend the one cutting teeth.

      “One day we came to realize that each would hear only the one to which we were assigned, and would sleep very soundly through the cries of the other.

      “We have commented on this over the years, convinced that you can train yourself to hear what you want to hear, to see and feel what you desire, but it takes some conditioning.

      “There are so many of us who go through life and seldom, if ever, hear that voice of inspiration, because ‘the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned’ (1 Cor. 2:14)” (Boyd K. Packer, in Conference Report, Oct. 1979, 28; or Ensign, Nov. 1979, 19–20).

    • “Put difficult questions in the back of your minds and go about your lives. Ponder and pray quietly and persistently about them.

      “The answer may not come as a lightning bolt. It may come as a little inspiration here and a little there, ‘line upon line, precept upon precept’ (D&C 98:12).

      “Some answers will come from reading the scriptures, some from hearing speakers. And, occasionally, when it is important, some will come by very direct and powerful inspiration. The promptings will be clear and unmistakable” (Packer, in Conference Report, Oct. 1979, 30; or Ensign, Nov. 1979, 21).

    • “As we go through life, we ofttimes build a rock wall between ourselves and heaven. This wall is built by our unrepented sins. For example, in our wall there may be stones of many different sizes and shapes. There could be stones because we have been unkind to someone. Criticism of leaders or teachers may add another stone. A lack of forgiveness may add another. Vulgar thoughts and actions may add some rather large stones in this wall. Dishonesty will add another; selfishness another; and so on.

      “In spite of the wall we build in front of us, when we cry out to the Lord, he still sends his messages from heaven; but instead of being able to penetrate our hearts, they hit the wall that we have built up and bounce off. His messages don’t penetrate, so we say, ‘He doesn’t hear,’ or ‘He doesn’t answer.’ Sometimes this wall is very formidable, and the great challenge of life is to destroy it, or, if you please, to cleanse ourselves, purifying this inner vessel so that we can be in tune with the Spirit.

      “Let me give you some examples. I suppose we have all had someone do something to us that we didn’t like, and that made us angry. We can’t forget it, and we don’t want to be around that person. This is called being unforgiving. Now, the Lord has had some very strong words to say to those who will not forgive one another. Many years ago I had an experience with being unforgiving. I felt I had been taken advantage of, and I did not like the person. I did not want to be around him; I would pass on the other side of the street if he came down it; I wouldn’t talk to him. Long after the issue should have been closed, it was still cankering my soul. One day my wife, who is very astute and knows when I’m not doing everything I should, said, ‘You don’t like so and so, do you?’

      “‘No, I don’t,’ I said. ‘But how could you tell?’

      “‘Well, it shows—in your countenance it shows. Why don’t you do something about it?’ she said.

      “‘Like what?’

      “‘Why don’t you pray about it?’

      “I said, ‘Well, I did pray once, and I still don’t like him.’

      “‘No,’ she said, ‘why don’t you really pray about it?’

      “Then I began to think, and I knew what she meant. So I decided that I was going to pray for a better feeling about this person until I had one. That night I got on my knees, and I prayed and opened up my heart to the Lord. But when I got up off my knees, I still didn’t like that person. The next morning I knelt and prayed and asked to have a feeling of goodness toward him; but when I finished my prayers, I still didn’t like him. The next night I still didn’t like him; a week later I didn’t like him; and a month later I didn’t like him—and I had been praying every night and every morning. But I kept it up, and I finally started pleading—not just praying, but pleading. After much prayer, the time came when without question or reservation I knew I could stand before the Lord, if I were asked to, and that he would know that at least in this instance my heart was pure. A change had come over me after a period of time. That stone of unforgiveness needs to be removed from all of us, if it happens to be there, and I suggest that persistent prayer might be a way to remove it” (H. Burke Peterson, “Prayer—Try Again,” Ensign, June 1981, 73).

    • “Petitioning in prayer has taught me, again and again, that the vault of heaven with all its blessings is to be opened only by a combination lock. One tumbler falls when there is faith, a second when there is personal righteousness; the third and final tumbler falls only when what is sought is, in God’s judgment—not ours—right for us. Sometimes we pound on the vault door for something we want very much and wonder why the door does not open. We would be very spoiled children if that vault door opened any more easily than it does. I can tell, looking back, that God truly loves me by inventorying the petitions He has refused to grant me. Our rejected petitions tell us much about ourselves but also much about our flawless Father” (Neal A. Maxwell, “Insights,” New Era, Apr. 1978, 6).

    • “But is prayer only one-way communication? No! … At the end of our prayers, we need to do some intense listening—even for several minutes. We have prayed for counsel and help. Now we must ‘be still, and know that [he is] God’ (Ps. 46:10.) …

      “… Sometimes ideas flood our mind as we listen after our prayers. Sometimes feelings press upon us. A spirit of calmness assures us that all will be well. But always, if we have been honest and earnest, we will experience a good feeling—a feeling of warmth for our Father in Heaven and a sense of his love for us” (Spencer W. Kimball, “Pray Always,” Ensign, Oct. 1981, 5).

    • “The pattern of our lives determines our eligibility to receive the promptings of the Spirit and to hear the answers to our prayers. Again, let there be no misunderstanding. Heavenly Father does answer our prayers, but often we aren’t prepared to hear him. Some are answered immediately, but some do take longer, and that’s where we may become discouraged” (Peterson, “Prayer—Try Again,” 74).

  5. Fasting should sometimes accompany prayer.

    • “Fasting, with prayer as its companion, is designed to increase spirituality; to foster a spirit of devotion and love of God; to increase faith in the hearts of men, thus assuring divine favor; to encourage humility and contrition of soul; to aid in the acquirement of righteousness; to teach man his nothingness and dependence upon God; and to hasten those who properly comply with the law of fasting along the path to salvation” (McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 276).

    • “Failing to fast is a sin. In the 58th chapter of Isaiah, rich promises are made by the Lord to those who fast and assist the needy. Freedom from frustrations, freedom from thralldom, and the blessing of peace are promised. Inspiration and spiritual guidance will come with righteousness and closeness to our Heavenly Father. To omit to do this righteous act of fasting would deprive us of these blessings” (Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, 98).

    • “A certain kind of devil goes not out except by fasting and prayer, the scripture tells us. (See Matt. 17:21.) Periodic fasting can help clear up the mind and strengthen the body and the spirit. The usual fast, the one we are asked to participate in for fast Sunday, is for 24 hours without food or drink. Some people, feeling the need, have gone on longer fasts of abstaining from food but have taken the needed liquids. Wisdom should be used, and the fast should be broken with light eating. To make a fast most fruitful, it should be coupled with prayer and meditation; physical work should be held to a minimum, and it’s a blessing if one can ponder on the scriptures and the reason for the fast” (Ezra Taft Benson, in Conference Report, Oct. 1974, 92; or Ensign, Nov. 1974, 66–67).