The Lord revealed many laws and principles during the restoration of the gospel in the latter days. One law that the Lord restored is the law of the fast---which in turn is encompassed within the law of consecration. To obey the law of the fast, members of the Church are asked to fast each month, usually on the first Sunday, by going without food and drink for two consecutive meals. Fasting should begin and end with prayer. As part of the fast, members also attend fast and testimony meeting, where they bear to each other their testimonies of Jesus Christ and acknowledge His hand in their lives. Members of the Church may also fast on special occasions as they feel the need to do so. As part of the fast, members then give to the bishop an offering of at least the amount of money they would have spent on the food they went without. A fast is not complete without the payment of fast offerings. The purpose of fast offerings is to provide food, shelter, clothing, and medical care to the poor and needy. Church members are asked to give as generously as they are able. As part of their sacred Priesthood calling, Deacons are asked to visit the home of each member on fast Sunday to collect these sacred funds intrusted to the Bishop for the care of those who are in need.
However, there is more to fasting than going without food and paying a fast offering. The Prophet Isaiah outlined the law of the fast in Chapter 58. He explains the reasons for fasting and the blessings that come from obeying the law of the fast. In verse five, Isaiah chastises the people for the way they are fasting–afflicting their souls and parading the fact that they are fasting in front of others. There was no purpose, no worship---just habitual actions void of the Spirit. Their fasting was not spiritual, but hypocrisy.
Isaiah then teaches the people, and us, the true purpose of the fast in verses six and seven. The purpose of fasting is to strengthen the Spirit—to free ourselves from the bondage of sin and to care for the poor. Fasting is not fasting without a spiritual purpose. Without a spiritual purpose, fasting is no more than a starvation diet.
In verses eight to twelve, Isaiah continues with the blessings that come from living the law of the fast. The Lord makes marvelous promises to his people through the prophet Isaiah. We will enjoy better health, and protection from the Lord. The Lord will hear our prayers, and lift the scorn of sin from us. The Lord will guide us, strengthen us during difficult times, and we shall have the abundant life. We will be a tool in the Lord’s hand to fulfill his work, and our posterity will be blessed and will honor us for our righteousness. No wonder the Lord told Joseph Smith that fasting would bring joy to our lives, saying, “Verily, this is fasting and prayer, or in other worlds, rejoicing and prayer.” (Doctrine and Covenants 59:14).
Therefore, as Matthew records, “when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto me to fast. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; that thou appear not unto me to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly” (Matthew 6:16-18).
President Spencer W. Kimball stated, “Let’s also teach our obligations relative to the law of the fast. Each member should contribute a generous fast offering for the care of the poor and the needy. This offering should at least be 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. I think that when we are affluent, as many of us are, that we ought to be very, very generous. . . . I think we should . . . give, instead of the amount saved by our two meals of fasting, perhaps much, much more—ten times more when we are in a position to do it.’ Fast offerings have long constituted the means from which the needs of the Lord’s poor have been provided. . . . If we give a generous fast offering, we shall increase our own prosperity both spiritually and temporally” (Conference Report, October 1977, 125-126).
President Kimball later added, “This principle of promise, when lived in the spirit thereof, greatly blesses both giver and receiver. Upon practicing the law of the fast, one finds a personal well-spring of power to overcome self-indulgence and selfishness. . . . For many years we have been taught that one important end result of our labors, hopes, and aspirations in this work is the building of a Latter-day Zion, a Zion characterized by love, harmony, and peace—a Zion in which the Lord’s children are as one. . . . This day will come; it is our destiny to help bring it about! Doesn’t it motivate you to lengthen your stride and quicken your pace as you do your part in the great sanctifying work of the kingdom? It does me. It causes me to rejoice over the many opportunities for service and sacrifice afforded me and my family as we seek to do our part in establishing Zion” (Conference Report, April 1978, p. 119-124).
While living the laws of tithing and the fast today, we must not forget the purpose of these principle-based laws in preparing us for the future. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught, “Our present system will eventually resolve itself into a united order in which every member will work not purely for his individual aggrandizement, but with an earnest desire to promote the interests of the kingdom of God on the earth” (Encyclopedia of Joseph Smith’s Teachings, p. 141).
It is mistaken to believe the efforts to live the United Order by the early members of the Church are historical in nature, or that the law of consecration has no relevance for us until the second coming of the Savior. The command from the Lord to build up Zion and establish the Kingdom of God upon the earth has never been repealed. Establishing Zion has been and always will be the goal of the Church. From our Baptism, where we covenant to “bear one another’s burdens” (Mosiah 18:8), we commit to a life of consecration. Additionally, every person who enters into the temples of the Lord and receives their endowments, covenants to sacrifice and to live the law of consecration—to give our time, our talents, all that the Lord has blessed us with, and all that he will bless us with, for the establishment of Zion and the building up of the Kingdom of God.
Ezra Taft Benson taught, “The law of consecration is a celestial law, not an economic experiment. . . . I repeat and emphasize that the law of consecration is a law for an inheritance in the celestial kingdom. God, the Eternal Father, his Son, Jesus Christ, and all holy beings abide by this law. It is an eternal law. It is a revelation by God to his Church in this dispensation. Thought not in full operation today, it will be mandatory for all Saints to live the law in its fullness to receive celestial inheritance. . . . today [you can] abide a portion of this higher law as you tithe, pay a generous fast offering, go on missions, and make other contributions of money, service, and time. . . . We must not lose sight of the fact that all we are doing now is but a prelude to the establishment of the united order, and living the law of consecration. The individual Saints must understand this” (Working Towards Zion, p. 149, 152, 228).
Each of us need to reflect on our lives through temple eyes, and bring them more in focus within the framework of the law of consecration. While not called to fully live the law of consecration and sacrifice, learning and understanding what is required of the Saints prepares each generation a step closer to the day of millennial lifestyle.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland stated, “We may not yet be the Zion of which our prophets foretold and toward which the poets and priests of Israel have pointed us, but we long for it and we keep working toward it. I do not know whether a full implementation of such a society can be realized until Christ comes, but I know . . . that the gospel of Jesus Christ holds the answer to every social and political and economic problem this world has ever faced. And I know we can each do something, however small that act may seem to be” (Ensign, May 1996, p. 30-31).
May each of us increase in our understanding of the Law of the Fast and its importance in our efforts to build Zion.