Fasting has been around since the time of Adam and Eve; it is a principle given to mankind to help us draw nearer our Heavenly Father as well as to worship Him. By His own example, Jesus Christ demonstrated the importance of fasting. (See Luke 4:1-4.) The Lord still expects His people to fast as we learn modern revelation. “Also, I give unto you a commandment that ye shall continue in prayer and fasting from this time forth” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:76).
President Joseph F. Smith explained that fasting means to go without food and drink (see Gospel Principles, p. 243). It is good for our bodies for us to fast occasionally and wisely; it is also good for our minds. Fasting is actually more than going with food and drink; it also includes concentrating on spiritual matters.
There are several actions we should take when fasting appropriately. The first action is to include prayer as a necessary part of our fast. Prayer and fasting are mentioned together throughout the scriptures. Sincere prayer should accompany our fasting, which should begin and end with prayer. Without including prayer, we are merely going without food and drink.
The second action we should include in our fast is to fast with a purpose. There are many purposes for which we can fast; two purposes are (1) to overcome weaknesses or problems and (2) to ask for help or guidance for others, such as someone who is ill or injured. We can fast to know the truth. We can for missionary efforts or any number of righteous reasons. We can fast to simply give thanks for blessings. We can fast to ask for forgiveness for wrong doing.
We should not fast to impress other people. We should be cheerful when we fast and not advertise our fast to other people. If we fast appropriately, we can become more humble and feel closer to our Heavenly Father.
Fast Sunday is held once each month, usually on the first Sunday of the month. On this day we fast from both food and drink for two consecutive meals or for twenty-four hours. An example would be to start our fast following the evening meal on Saturday and to end our fast with the evening meal on Sunday.
Everyone is encouraged to fast if they can do so, but little children, pregnant women, and nursing mothers should not fast. When our children read the age of eight years and are baptized, we should encourage them to fast but never force them. Most parents teach their children to fast by asking them to refrain from eating one meal and gradually refraining from eating two meals.
Fast Sunday is a special day to help us become humble before the Lord in fasting and prayer. It is a day to pray for forgiveness for our sins and to ask for the power to overcome our weaknesses. It is also a day to extend forgiveness to others. It is also a day to meet with other members, to partake of the sacrament, and to bear our testimonies and/or to listen to the testimonies of other people.
The fast is the Lord’s way of helping the poor. He asks every member to go without eating for two meals and then to give the money that would have been spent on the food for those two meals to the proper priesthood authority. We have been asked to give as generously as we are able because our fast offerings are used to administer to the needs of our less fortunate brothers and sisters.
We know from the writings of the prophet Isaiah in the Old Testament that the Lord promises rich blessings to those who fast and help the needy. Some of those blessings are peace, increased health, and spiritual guidance. Fasting also improves our lives and strengthens us to live other principles of the gospel as we draw nearer to God.
Fasting helps us learn self-control and thus helps us gain strength of character. By fasting properly, we can learn to control our appetites, passions, and tempers. Fasting appropriately can also help us feel successful and lead to more self-confidence. Children who are taught to fast appropriately are helped to develop the willpower to overcome greater temptations in their later lives.
We can gain spiritual power by fasting appropriately. We can develop our faith in Jesus Christ by fasting wisely and prayerfully. To those who fast properly, the Savior said, “Thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly” (Matthew 6:18).