I’ve been thinking about fasting today, partly because President Nelson has invited us to participate in a worldwide fast this weekend and to pray for “relief from the physical, emotional, and economic effects” of COVID-19.
I was drawn to the following plea from Amaleki, the last writer in the small plates of Nephi:
Come unto Christ…
and offer your whole souls as an offering unto him,
and continue in fasting and praying,
and endure to the end;
and as the Lord liveth ye will be saved.
Why do fasting and prayer go together? Because the purpose of fasting is to turn our hearts toward God. It can help us receive answers and blessings that we would not receive otherwise.
When Jesus’s disciples asked why they had been unable to cast a devil out of a child, He first told them they lacked faith. Then He added, “This kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17:21).
Elder Carl B. Pratt has taught us how to combine fasting with prayer:
Let us begin our fasts with prayer. This could be kneeling at the table as we finish the meal with which we begin the fast. That prayer should be a natural thing as we speak to our Heavenly Father concerning the purpose of our fast and plead with Him for His help in accomplishing our goals. Likewise, let us end our fasts with prayer. We could very appropriately kneel at the table before we sit down to consume the meal with which we break our fast. We would thank the Lord for His help during the fast and for what we have felt and learned from the fast.
In addition to a beginning and ending prayer, we should seek the Lord often in personal prayer throughout the fast.
(“The Blessings of a Proper Fast,” General Conference, October 2004)
Isaiah took issue with people who go hungry out of a sense of duty but who fail to recognize the true purposes of fasting:
Is it such a fast that I have chosen?
a day for a man to afflict his soul?
is it to bow down his head as a bulrush,
and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?
wilt thou call this a fast,
and an acceptable day to the Lord?
Fasting is not about the suffering. We don’t get “credit” for the pain we are enduring, and we don’t earn blessings! Fasting is not supposed to turn our thoughts inward. It’s supposed to turn them outward:
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?
Tomorrow, as I fast, I will turn my thoughts outward. I will pray for relief—relief for all those who have been adversely affected by this disease, physically, emotionally, and economically. I will pray as I begin my fast, as I end my fast, and throughout my fast. I will pour out my whole soul as an offering to God, remembering that great blessings can come from fasting and praying.