Tag Archives: Fasting

Hymn #138: Bless Our Fast, We Pray

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.

Hymn #139: In Fasting We Approach Thee

Why do we fast?

The essential answer is simply “we fast because God has commanded us to fast.” If God asked us to burn sacrifices, we would burn sacrifices. If God asked us to run ten miles at least once a month, we’d all take up running. It’s just what we do.

And yet, obedience without understanding is never the goal. God often teaches us through symbols, and the rituals and ordinances we carry out are often full of them. So, why do we fast? This hymn provides a few suggestions.

[We] pray thy Spirit from above
Will cleanse our hearts, cast out our fear,
And fill our hunger with thy love. (verse 1)

The concept of filling our hunger with His love is an interesting one to me. Fasting definitely introduces a “hole” in us. It not only induces physical weakness, but it often feels as if there’s a pit in our stomach.  The natural man’s remedy to fasting is to fill that hole with food, but God invites us to instead seek to fill it with divine blessings.

Thru this small sacrifice, may we
Recall that strength and life each day
Are sacred blessings sent from thee (verse 2)

Fasting reminds us of our own dependence. Within just a few hours of skipping a meal, we are weak, humbled, and very aware of our own needy-ness. Fasting can serve as a reminder of our own dependence on God, for his blessings and continued sustenance. It can also symbolically remind us of our own spiritual dependence. How much are we spiritually weakened when we go just a day or two without scripture study, or a few hours without prayer?

And may our fast fill us with care
For all thy children now in need. (verse 3)

In our own fast, we are also more able to sympathize with those who are in physical need. Many of God’s children barely have enough to survive. We who have so much, who can skip a couple meals without any lasting consequences—surely fasting reminds us of our responsibility to care for those who fast because they have no choice, or who worry every day how they’ll make ends meet.

This fast, dear Father, sanctify (verse 4)

Because fasting has been commanded by God, obedience brings additional blessings. Our simple choice to obey increases our faith, and gives us access to spiritual blessings God is ready to pour out upon us.  Our fasting can be sanctified, made holy, if we do it in faith. It can bring an added measure of the Spirit, with the accompanying blessings that brings.

There’s a beautiful passage in Isaiah about the power that can accompany a humble and faithful fast. Take some time to really read it:

Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?

Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?

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 rearward.
(Isaiah 58:6-8)

And then comes verse 9:

Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am.”

What a beautiful promise.

So next time you’re fasting, make it a true fast, a sanctified one. Seek the blessings God has already promised to those who fast in humility and faith. The blessings are great.

Hymn #219: Because I Have Been Given Much

Because I have been given much, I too must give;
Because of thy great bounty, Lord, each day I live
I shall divide my gifts from thee
With every brother that I see
Who has the need of help from me.

This is a beloved hymn in the LDS Church. If you’ve spent much time with us at all, chances are excellent you’ve heard it at least once, and if you’ve been a member for most of your life, chances are excellent you’ve sung it a couple hundred times. It’s the song about gratitude. I’m not going to try to be tricky here and argue that it’s secretly about something else (although take a look at those topics at the bottom; missionary work? reactivation? fasting? there’s more than meets the eye here), although I do want to explore the depth of the gratitude we express in this hymn. Let’s consider a few words from that first verse.

1. How much is “much?”

We sing that we have been given “much” from the Lord, but how much are we talking about? I think we all understand that He created the heavens and earth, as well as the animal and plant life thereon. Certainly we should be thankful for those gifts. But surely this doesn’t include things that man has created, right? We should be thankful for our lives, of course, but should we give thanks to the Lord for, say, television, or smartphones? Do I need to be grateful for the database that I built at work?

We have been given much, but a more accurate word might be “all.” The Lord has given us everything, from the earth we stand on and the air we breathe to our wit, intelligence, and creativity. If we build anything, it’s only because He gave us the ability to do so in the first place. King Benjamin, in his wonderful valedictory address to his people in the Book of Mormon, taught that even if we were to “render all the thanks and praise which [our] whole soul has power to possess,” we would yet be unprofitable servants. He has given us so much that we can never come out ahead, particularly since as we extend our gratitude to Him through our obedience, He gives us further blessings. There’s no way for us to catch up.

Fortunately, He doesn’t ask us to catch up. All He asks is that we keep His commandments, and one of those is to be grateful. So we offer our gratitude to Him for all that we have, and we certainly have much.

2. How many days is “each?”

We pledge in this hymn to express gratitude and share our gifts with others each day we live. That doesn’t mean that we do those things only on Sundays, or only when it’s convenient for us. It’s easy to be grateful and share at those times. We’re good at offering gratitude when we’re recognized for it, or when everyone else is also doing so. It’s a breeze to offer what we have to others when we’re confident they will be too polite to accept. But it’s something else when we see someone in need and we know it would cost us more than a trifle to stop and help. We may be driving somewhere and see someone stopped on the side of the road. We may justify not stopping because we’re in a rush, and think to ourselves, “Someone else will probably stop,” or, “I’m sure they’ll take care of it.” We may hear that an acquaintance needs help fixing their house, and think “I don’t know them that well,” or, “I just got home from work, and I’m too tired to go out.”

We’re good at finding ways to justify inaction and ingratitude, but the hymn makes it clear that we are to be grateful and giving each day we live. We don’t get days off. There aren’t times when it’s optional to give thanks or aid. We are to be grateful always, even (and perhaps especially) when it’s difficult. And in those times that it’s difficult to be grateful, we can take comfort in the fact that others have made the same pledge, and they will be there for us when we need help.

3. How many people is “every?”

We declare that we will share our blessings with “every” brother (or sister, of course) that we see. As we mentioned before, it’s very easy to share our blessings with friends and family. These are people that we know and love, and of course we would share with them. They would share with us. It’s less easy to offer our blessings to those we don’t know as well, or who don’t seem to be able (or willing) to repay us.

The commandment is simple: We are to share our bounty with everyone. We don’t distinguish based on intent, or appearance, or belief, or anything else. We have been blessed without reservation, and we spread those blessings similarly without reservation. The apostle John wrote that “we love [the Lord], because he first loved us.” We could just as well say that we love others because He first loved us, and we bless others’ lives because He first blessed ours.

I think we readily understand the message that we are to be grateful because we have been so richly blessed, but we might be slower to understand the breadth of that gratitude.  Our gratitude isn’t expressed in passing. There’s nothing shallow about it. It should be all-encompassing, and we’re probably slow to admit that because we know how difficult a task it is.

Fortunately, He doesn’t ask us to do it all at once, or even to be able to do it all at once. He asks for our best effort, and as we give that, He blesses us more and more.