We fast every first Sunday of each month as a church, and more often as the occasion calls for it. We go without food for two meals, and we offer the money we would spend on that food to the church, which is spent on those who are less fortunate. We all do this, and while we do our best to make sure we have a reason to fast, we often remember a little too late and just go hungry for a day. Just like with prayer, we participate with varying degrees of intent and faithfulness.
But why is it that we fast? Isn’t prayer enough? Why do we add the element of hunger to our supplication to God?
Feed thou our souls, fill thou our hearts,
And bless our fast, we pray,
That we may feel thy presence here
And feast with thee today.
We forego filling our bellies so that the Lord can fill our hearts and souls as we fast. It’s symbolic, like so many other parts of the gospel. There’s nothing inherently sacred about going without food, We do it because we are asked, and because the Lord has promised that if we do, we can feel our commitment to Him deepened and our faith strengthened. It’s prayer, coupled with action to increase its effect.
We act not only by abstaining from food, but by giving that food (or its monetary equivalent) to those who need it more than we do. We sing about this in the hymn’s second verse:
We’ve shared our bread with those in need,
Relieved the suff’ring poor.
The stranger we have welcomed in–
Wilt thou impart thy store?
We do our part. We do the things that we are asked, and we do as the Savior would (and asked us to do) in giving to the poor. And as we do so, we remember that we are entitled to the Lord’s blessing as a result. We approach Him with confidence, knowing that we have acted in accordance with His will.
This is the fast the Lord has chosen. We make sacrifices to help others in their difficult times. We take action to show the Lord the extent of our dedication to Him. And it’s no accident that our fast Sundays are the times we are asked to share our testimonies. We take action by giving up our food and giving it to others, and we take similar action by sharing with others our knowledge of the truth of the gospel. We make our fast a meaningful exercise (as best as we can, anyway), and the Lord in turn blesses and sanctifies our fast as He has promised.
It’s more than going hungry, and it can be more deeply meaningful than simply skipping a meal or two. But then again, so much of the gospel is deeper than it appears on the surface. Prayer is more than kneeling and closing our eyes. The sacrament is more than bread and water. Tithing is more than cutting a check. We offer our actions and our hearts, and the Lord blesses both as we offer them to Him.