Have you ever done something that seemed altruistic, but you later realized it was actually pretty self-serving? Maybe you gave a compliment which indirectly made you look good. Or you gave a gift which allowed the recipient to serve you.
After the Babylonian captivity, the Lord spoke to the people of Jerusalem through the prophet Zechariah: “When ye fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh month, even those seventy years, did ye at all fast unto me, even to me?” Then, He went on to question their motivation for celebrating their feasts: “And when ye did eat, and when ye did drink, did not ye eat for yourselves, and drink for yourselves?” (Zechariah 7:5-6).
We might assume that our religious activities are motivated by love for God, but as Zechariah points out in this passage, even worship activities like fasting can be more about us than about God.
After Captain Moroni led the Nephites to victory over the armies of Zerahemnah, the Nephites fasted as a way of expressing gratitude to God. “They gave thanks unto the Lord their God; yea, and they did fast much and pray much, and they did worship God with exceedingly great joy” (Alma 45:1). This might be a key to assessing our motivations for fasting: does it bring us joy, or does it feel like a chore? As Zechariah instructed his people:
The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall be to the house of Judah joy and gladness, and cheerful feasts; therefore love the truth and peace.Zechariah 8:19
The Lord also equated fasting with joy in a revelation to church members in Jackson County, Missouri in 1831: Keep the Sabbath Day holy, He said, “that thy fasting may be perfect, or, in other words, that thy joy may be full.” Then, He added, “Verily, this is fasting and prayer, or in other words, rejoicing and prayer” (Doctrine and Covenants 59:13-14).
Today, I will ponder my motivations for my religious activities. Do I fast, attend church, and pray “unto God” or for myself. I will strive to participate in religious activities for the right reasons.