“What’s the point of fasting?” ask the children of Israel in Isaiah 58. “Why are we torturing ourselves when God doesn’t even notice?”
In response, Isaiah contrasts the way they are currently fasting with the way God wants them to fast:
- “Ye find pleasure.” You do whatever you want during the fast.
- “And exact all your labours.” You exploit your employees while simultaneously trying to win God’s favor.
- “Ye fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness.” You are unkind to other people.
- “A day for a man to afflict his soul.” You think of fasting as intentional suffering.
- “To bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him.” You think it’s all about showing how much you can endure.
- “To loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke.” True fasting is about freedom—from sin, from oppression, and from all forms of servitude, including addictions.
- “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.” Fasting is about helping other people. You give up something you can live without so that others can have what they need.
The Book of Mormon emphasizes the importance of fasting:
- Fasting helps us grow spiritually. Amaleki urges us to “continue in fasting and praying” in order to offer our “whole souls as an offering” to God (Omni 1:26). Alma and the sons of Mosiah fasted and prayed many times in order to receive the Spirit of the Lord. (See Alma 5:46, Alma 17:3.) Years later, the Nephites grew in their humility and faith because “they did fast and pray oft” (Helaman 3:35).
- We can fast for specific blessings. Alma’s father and the priests fasted for him when he was unable to move for two days (Mosiah 27:22-23).
- Members of the church fast and pray together. (See Alma 6:6, 3 Nephi 27:1, 4 Nephi 1:12, Moroni 6:5.)
President Henry B. Eyring pointed out that fasting increases our capacity to resist temptation, just as Jesus fasted before being tempted of the devil. (See Matthew 4:1-2.) Perhaps this is one of the ways that fasting enables us to “break every yoke.”
President Eyring also observed that, when we fast and pay a generous fast offering, we not only “help feed and clothe bodies” but also “heal and change hearts.” (See “‘Is Not This the Fast That I Have Chosen?’” General Conference, April 2015.)
Isaiah’s expression, “the fast that I have chosen” (Isaiah 58:5-6), makes me think of fasting less as a duty and more as a freewill offering to God. Today, I will recommit to fasting in a productive and appropriate way. I will fast with the intent to grow closer to God and to other people. I will remember that fasting can help me develop greater self-control and that it gives me the opportunity to serve other people.