Monday, February 17, 2014

Fasting Talk - 2014

One of life's great joys is to eat.  Many of us get up in the morning and enjoy a pipping hot bowl of oatmeal.  We devour large helping of vegetables in the hope of keeping our good health.  We love special desserts.  Food is important for our health and well being.  So why would someone voluntarily go without food?  That is, why would someone fast?

On the surface going without food doesn't appear to be a very good idea.  But fasting has been done since the beginning of time.  I wonder how long a person would live if they only drank water?   That challenge was put to the test few years ago. 

In Northern Ireland in 1981, a prisoner, Bobby Sands, was part of the 1981 Irish hunger strike, protesting for better rights in prison. Sands had just been elected to the British Parliament and died after 66 days of not eating. His funeral was attended by 100,000 people and the strike ended only after 9 other men died. In all, ten men survived without food for 46 to 73 days, taking only water and salt.

Fasting is primarily an act of willing abstinence or reduction from certain or all food, drink, or both, for a period of time. An absolute fast is normally defined as abstinence from all food and liquid for a defined period, usually a single day (24 hours), or several days.

Last year the Presiding Bishopric of the church said the following: 

We propose a renewed emphasis on the law of the fast and its attendant blessings” (Presiding Bishopric, General Authority Training, October 2013) 

The Handbook of instructions has the following to say, 
“A proper fast day observance typically includes abstaining from food and drink for two consecutive meals in a 24-hour period, attending fast and testimony meeting, and giving a generous fast offering to help care for those in need.” (Handbook 2, 21.1.17)

In 2004 in General Conference, Carl B Pratt said the following:
I fear, brethren, 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. 


lethargic, apathetic, listless, sluggish, spiritless, passionless;
careless, lazy, lax, unenthusiastic, halfhearted, lukewarm, casual

Fasting is not new.  We find reference to fasting as having been practiced in the earliest of times in the Old Testament as an expression of grief or emotion. It was associated with serious and heartfelt sorrow for sin, with times of mourning, and with occasions of strong emotion.

Moses fasted before he received the ten commandments:

 28 And he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.
 29 ¶And it came to pass, when Moses came down from mount Sinai with the two tables of testimony in Moses’ hand, when he came down from the mount, that Moses wist not that the skin of his face shone while he talked with him.  Exodus chapter 34

In the new testament, after being baptized, Jesus fasted for forty days and nights in the Judaean Desert. During this time, Satan appeared to Jesus and tempted him. Jesus having refused each temptation, Satan departed and angels came and brought nourishment to the Lord. 

Jesus talked about the fast in the Sermon on the Mount:
16 ¶Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. 

 17 But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face;
 18 That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.

When the disciples were unable to cure a boy who was possessed of an evil spirit, they asked the Savior, “Why could not we cast him out?” Jesus responded, “This kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting” (Matt. 17:19, 21).
 Modern scripture says:

“And on this day thou shalt do none other thing, only let thy food be prepared with singleness of heart that thy fasting may be perfect, or, in other words, that thy joy may be full.
“Verily, this is fasting and prayer, or in other words, rejoicing and prayer.” (D&C 59:13–14.)

“Also, I give unto you a commandment that ye shall continue in prayer and fasting from this time forth.” (D&C 88:76.)

There were occasional fasts held in Nauvoo with some special objective in view, but no fasts on a regular basis. It was not until 1845 that a fast was held in Nauvoo to provide for the poor. In the History of the Church we find this notation made by Brigham Young:
“Thursday, 15 … Fast Day: all works were stopped. Meetings were held in the several wards and donations made to the bishops for the poor; enough was contributed to supply the wants of the poor until harvest.” (History of the Church, 7:411.)

The first Sunday of December, 1896, was the date set for a regular fast. From that time to the present—over a century—the fast day has been observed, in most instances, on the first Sunday of the month as a religious practice.

We Are Blessed When We Fast

The Old Testament prophet Isaiah wrote of the Lord’s rich promises to those who fast and help the needy. We are promised peace, improved health, and spiritual guidance. Isaiah tells us of the blessings that come when we fast: “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 reward. Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am” (Isaiah 58:8–9).
Fasting improves our lives and gives us added strength. It helps us live other principles of the gospel because it draws us nearer to the Lord.

Fasting Teaches Self-Control

Fasting helps us gain strength of character. When we fast properly, we will learn to control our appetites and passions. We are a little stronger by having proved to ourselves that we have self-control. If we teach our children to fast, they will develop the spiritual strength to overcome greater temptations later in their lives.

Fasting Gives Us Spiritual Power

When we fast wisely and prayerfully, we develop our faith. With that faith we will have greater spiritual power. For example, Alma  tells the story of meeting again with the sons of Mosiah many years after their miraculous conversion. He felt great joy when he learned that they had strengthened their faith and had developed great spiritual power. They had gained this power because “they had given themselves to much prayer, and fasting; therefore they had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation” (Alma 17:3).

 A number of years ago I was visiting with my sister in Wisconsin.  It happened to be fast Sunday.  On Saturday about noon the three of us gathered in the front room and knelt in prayer to begin our fast.  My brother in law pleaded with the Lord for help in some family matters.  The three of us went without food for the next 24 hours.  We didn't cheat.  We didn't sneak into the kitchen for little treats, we just fasted.  The next day after Fast and Testimony Meeting we again knelt in prayer remembering those who needed help, those who might not have enough food.  Ron asked the Lord to accept our fast in behalf of his family and we ended our fast with a tempting meal.  I was impressed.

So I went home and tried to do the same.  It was not met with enthusiasm.  My children didn't like the tight control of a set time to begin and end the fast.  However since that time my wife and I have begun our fast with a prayer and a purpose. Last fast Sunday we knelt down next to our couch in the front room.  My wife said I want to fast for such and such, I said not me I want to fast for something else.  I jokingly said , I don't want to fast for your idea I want mine.  We both started laughing at how silly it was to fast for separate purposes and we fasted for both concerns. 

Carl Pratt:
 If we have a special purpose in our fasting, the fast will have much more meaning. Perhaps we can take time as a family before beginning our fast to talk about what we hope to accomplish by this fast. This could be done in a family home evening the week before fast Sunday or in a brief family meeting at the time of family prayer. 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. A purpose of our fast as priesthood holders might be to seek the Lord’s guidance in our callings, as President Hinckley has demonstrated, or we might fast with our home teaching companion to know how to help one of our families.  

Over my lifetime the fast has had a special meaning to me and I'd like to share a few stories: 

1.  When I was fourteen years old cancer was discovered in my mother.  My father did everything he could.  He took her to UCLA and saw many doctors. He nursed her and cared for her and gave her every attention.  She had given birth to me and my six brothers and sisters and it was unthinkable that we would be deprived of our mother.  Each fast Sunday I fasted in the hope that my dear sweet mother, my best friend would be healed. I knelt by my bed and prayed that she would live. I knew the Lord had the power to cure her even though the doctors had given up hope.  

My bedroom was adjacent to my parent's bedroom and on Tuesday, August 30 1960 at 6:40 am I heard a disturbance through the door. I knew my mother had slipped away.  In a few minutes the bishop and his wife knocked on our door came in the house and with the family gathered together my dad announced that my mother had died.  Fasting doesn't mean we always get what we want but it can  prepare us for things that will happen.

 2.  When I was 10 years old my parents and grandmother and I went to the dedication of the Los Angeles Temple.  The year was 1956.  My parents and grandmother and I were toward the back of a very large room.  There was a sea of people.  I remember President McKay in front of the congregation with his white hair and warm voice.  

Before this there were tours of the temple.  On one of the tours  I walked behind the Elder's Quorum President of our ward.  He was a handsome man and his wife was very pretty.  They held hands.  I wondered to myself, Will I have a pretty wife?  Will I have children?  What will life hold for me?  I was just a scrawny kid and a family seemed miles away.  But the desire of an eternal companion rested in my heart.

After my mission I graduated from BYU and became an elementary school teacher in Glendora, CA.  At the time of this story I was 28.  One day after teaching my 13 year old Sunday School class I walked out into the hallway to go home and saw a beautiful young woman in a red dress on the phone.  I struck up a conversation with her and her friend.  They needed a ride home so I gave them a lift.  A year later we re-met at a Know your Religion.  We dated over the summer and fell in love.  I fasted and prayed to know if Suzanne was to be the mother of my children.  We were married on December 21, 1974 and over the next twenty years we had six children together.  

3.  Suzanne died in 1994 of cancer and some months later I met another lovely woman named Deborah.  With six children to raise I again went to the Lord in fasting and prayer to look for his blessing.  On one particular Sunday I fasted and walked up into the mountains above our home to pray.  I needed a direct answer and not just a warm feeling this time.  No answer came that day.  In fact no answer came that week ---- until Saturday.  While I was garage sailing in the neighborhood and stood in a driveway the answer came to me in a most powerful and profound way.  I now knew I could move forward and soon thereafter we were sealed in the Los Angeles Temple.   

4.  A number of years ago I found that my daughter had been secretly dating a non member.  They had a long standing relationship and I knew from personal experience that it would be very difficult to break it off even though she was going away to school.  One Saturday I called my son Eric and said, "Let's fast that Ashley breaks up with her boyfriend."  Eric said, "I was thinking of doing the same thing."  So we began our fast with a purpose and a prayer.  Soon thereafter she broke up with the young man and later she told us it wasn't as hard as she thought it would be. In 2011 Ashley married the love of her life, Andrew DaBell in the Salt Lake Temple.
5.  Published: Tuesday, March 4 2014 7:35 p.m. MST Deseret News:
PROVO — A BYU student who suffered critical head injuries last week after being hit by a car just outside the campus boundaries is making remarkable progress.

Lexi Hansen, 18, was alert and breathing on her own Tuesday, though she was still listed in critical but stable condition. She even tried to get out of her hospital bed. While she has a long road to recovery ahead, her family believes they have witnessed a miracle.
“When they brought her in, the doctors gave her less than a 5 percent chance of survival,” said Doug Hansen, Lexi’s father. “They told us to call our family and get them here quickly because she wasn’t going to last too long.”

Just before 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 26, Lexi was riding her longboard while crossing the street in a crosswalk at the intersection of University Avenue and Canyon Road when the accident occurred. No alcohol, drugs or texting were believed to have played a role in the crash, police said.
Lexi suffered head injuries and was in a coma for several days. But Sunday, she came out of the coma as her family sang hymns around her.

“We had the most amazing experience today at the end of everyone's fast,” the family wrote on the Pray for Lexi Facebook Page. “Lexi opened her eyes and kept them open for nearly an hour while we sang hymns to her as a family. While we were singing, she hand signed, 'I love you,' moving her arm around so that everyone could see. She then reached for each person's hands individually so she could squeeze them. We could hardly sing due to the tears streaming down our face. We knew we were witnessing a miracle.”

Lexi's mother, Marcia Hansen, says Lexi is a fighter. Every day she is improving on the previous day, she said.

“Every single day is a miracle, every single day,” Marcia Hansen said. “It was a zero percent when she was found, then 1 percent the next day. Now there are still a few things that we are not sure of, but almost everything is just positive.”

6.  I recently asked my daughter Ashley if she had any stories about fasting and she said the following:  

"When I was just about to graduate college I was just about to move into a new apartment with my friend Annette and we needed a third roommate to split the rent with and it was a three bedroom apartment. I really wanted it to be a good roommate.  I had had some previous roommates who had brought me down a bit and it was important for me to have a good friend at the time.  And so Annette and i fasted about it and prayed hard to find a good roommate.  We had gotten a few calls from some women who didn't seem like a good fit.  And then as we were ending our fast it was literally about a minute after we said the prayer and Annette's phone rang and it was a girl named Marissa.  So we met her over at the apartment to show it to her.  And she seemed really great, really nice and friendly.  And so luckily we ended up moving in with her.  And she and I became really close friends.  She was a really phenomenal person to live with.  I think it definitely shows that the Lord answers our prayers when we fast.  And little things that are important to us are important to him as well."  close quote.

Let us not be lackadaisical about our fasting.  Let's fast the full 24 hours with a purpose so we can receive the blessings that Isaiah talks about.