Sunday, February 7, 2010

Is Not This The Fast That I Have Chosen?

When we dig deep, most of us want the same things. We want to feel peace, freedom and the love of God. We want to be healthy, happy, making progress and to know God is listening and approves of us. Deep down, these are the kinds of things we really want more than anything else. The Lord taught Isaiah how obeying the law of the fast brings us the things we want most:

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

If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity; And if thou draw out they soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday: And the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not (Isaiah 58:6-11).

We can become the celestial person described in these verses if we follow the examples of Moses, Elijah and Jesus Christ in obeying the law of the fast. These three prophets, including Christ who is the son of God, also represent three different causes for which we may fast.

Under Mosaic law, the children of Israel would fast each year for their own welfare. On this day, known as the day of Atonement, special sacrifices were made by the high priest, in combination with the fast, to bring forgiveness and strength to the people (see Lev. 16:30, Heb. 9:24). As Moses, we may also fast for our own welfare or help in our daily lives.

In 1 Kings 19, Elijah laments the iniquity and hardness of the people. He feels like no one has heard him, that his efforts have been in vain, and he is discouraged enough to wish he could die. The Lord had Elijah fast for forty days and directed him to Mount Horeb. Then, fasting and in a temple-like setting, the Lord taught Elijah through wind, an earthquake and a still, small voice. Elijah was told of faithful thousands and directed to the home of Elisha, his new missionary companion. Like Elijah, we may see miracles as we fast for others.

Finally, Christ fasted at the beginning of his ministry. Victor Ludlow taught, "Jesus' atoning sacrifice symbolizes the potential value of a fulfilling fast. His fast was a valuable preparation for his mortal ministry, culminating in his atoning sacrifice. When we fast, we symbolically reenact the sacrifice of Christ in our own flesh: we deny ourselves the things that sustain our physical being so as to bring our spirits into communion with God, and this makes us better Saints... In fasting we reconcile ourselves spiritually to God and sacrifice our physical means for our fellowman in a truly Christlike manner" (Principles, 316).

A fast for our own welfare, the welfare of others or to bring our spirits into communion with God will be most effective when we remember the two great commandments: to love the Lord thy God and to love thy neighbor as thyself (Matthew 22:37-40). We add power to our fast when we show our love to God through frequent prayer; similar power is added when we show our love to our neighbor through generous fast offerings.

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin said, "We observe that in the scriptures, fasting almost always is linked with prayer. Without prayer, fasting is not complete fasting; it's simply going hungry. If we want our fasting to be more than just going without eating, we must lift our hearts, our minds, and our voices in communion with our Heavenly Father. Fasting, coupled with mighty prayer, is powerful. It can fill our minds with the revelations of the Spirit. It can strengthen us against times of temptation" (The Law of the Fast, May 2001).

Of our offerings, Elder Wirthlin reminds us that "our offering to bless the poor is a measure of our gratitude to our Heavenly Father." President Spencer W. Kimball counseled, "Each member should contribute a generous fast offering to care for the poor and the needy. This offering should be at least the value of the two meals not eaten while fasting. Sometimes we have been a bit penurious and figured that we had for breakfast one egg and that cost so many cents and then we give that to the Lord... We ought to be very, very generous. I think that we should give... perhaps much, much more-- ten times more when we are in a position to do it... If we give a generous fast offering, we shall increase our own prosperity both spiritually and temporally" (And the Lord Called His People Zion, December 1984).

Through the law of the fast we may develop the discipline, the confidence, the gratitude, the spiritual gifts, the freedom from sin, the soft, unselfish heart and the eye single to the glory of God to become the glorious people described by Isaiah. In fasting for ourselves, for others and for communion with God, and combined with prayer and generous offerings, we can obtain the important things we want most in life and thereafter.

Is this the fast that you have chosen?

(See also: Exodus 34:28, 1 Samuel 31:13, 2 Samuel 1:12, Judges 20:26, 2 Chronicles 20:3, Matthew 4:2-11, D&C 59:13-14, D&C 88:76, 119, D&C 109:8, 16, Luke 10:30-34)

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