“Fasting and Prayer”

Talks and Lessons

When the Savior was preparing to begin His earthly ministry, and He most urgently and earnestly needed His Father’s assistance and reassurance and strength to sustain him through what He knew lay ahead, what did He do? He fasted and prayed (Matthew 4:1–2; Mark 1:12–13; Luke 4:1–2).

In the Wilderness (detail) by Ron DiCianni

In the Wilderness (detail) by Ron DiCianni

He fasted. That’s where you go hungry for two meals and donate the money you would have spent on food to the needy, right? I can testify through my own personal experiences that fasting is so much more than an empty plate and a contribution. When it is properly and righteously practiced, fasting and prayer do nothing less than close the distance between us and God, and make possible things that we could never achieve on our own. Fasting is a principle of power as well as of faith.

One of the most important reasons we have come to this earth is to get a body, and to learn mastery over it. We are here to overcome the physical in deference to the spiritual. We are here to learn to think like our Heavenly Father thinks, and to meet situations the way He would meet them. Part of that process is to receive a body of our own, as He has, and to master it, as He did.

Empty PlateThe Lord has commanded us to control the body we’ve been given, and not to let it control us. Controlling our body means controlling our mind, and that requires focus and will and constant, conscious effort, because we are bombarded minute by minute with every conceivable distraction, to prevent us from focusing on the eternal purpose of this life. We need our Heavenly Father’s help to stay on task. We need not only to ask for His help, but also to put ourselves in a state of mind to receive and accept it. One of the things that I love about the Gospel is that, while the Lord does ask much of us, He doesn’t just give us a list of commandments to follow and then abandon us to our own devices. He gives us commandments but also provides us with every tool we need to accomplish what He asks. And so it is with the imperative to become more like Him. Fasting provides a way for us to become less focused on the temporal and more focused on the eternal.

In the book of Isaiah (Isaiah 58:6) the Lord declares that He has also established fasting “to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and … break every yoke.”

So, what is it about going without food and donating a generous fast offering that draws us closer to heaven? As Elder Shayne M. Bowen of the Seventy explains, fasting works like this:

  • A generous fast offering blesses the lives of others, but it also blesses us. When we feed and clothe the poor and needy, we are fulfilling our Heavenly Father’s commandment to care for His children, and we are blessed for our obedience.
  • Fasting helps us subdue what King Benjamin called the natural man (Mosiah 3:19), which goes back to our need to develop self-mastery. Our spiritual self overcomes our physical self, and we are able to draw closer to the Lord.
  • Fasting invites enlightenment and the companionship of the Holy Ghost.
  • Fasting intensifies prayer, by magnifying our sensitivity to the Spirit and its influence.

Jesus PrayingPresident Henry B. Eyring has said, “Fast[ing] … helps us to feel humble and meek so that the Holy Ghost may more easily be our companion.”

Every month, generally on the first Sunday, we have the opportunity to practice fasting and praying as a principle of power. To ensure an effective fast, Elder Bowen offers these suggestions:

  • As a fast day approaches, think about a purpose for the fast. It could be as simple as expressing thanks.
  • Begin your fast by praying. Talk with Heavenly Father and share with Him the purpose of your fast (D&C 59:14).
  • Fast for two meals, if you are physically able to do so. Whenever hunger pains come, use them as a reminder to pray again about the purpose of your fast.
  • Give a generous fast offering.
  • If you feel impressed to do so, bear your testimony in fast and testimony meeting.
  • During the time you would have spent preparing food and eating and cleaning up, engage in worthy pursuits such as studying the scriptures, writing in your journal, or serving others.
  • After Sunday meetings, end your fast by again praying.
  • Commit to being a better person, and make plans with God on how you will improve.

Of course, we are not limited to one Sunday every month. Fasting can become a powerful tool that, once mastered, we can use to open the windows of heaven whenever we are in need. Of course, we must always humble ourselves and accept the will of the Lord, because the answer may not be exactly what we’re expecting. But the prayer of the righteous can indeed open the windows of heaven.

About eight years ago, I was serving as the executive secretary in the bishopric in my ward. We had a single sister I will call Sheri, who was 31, and she had a daughter named Stephanie, who was 10. What made this family remarkable was the incredible adversity Sheri had overcome in her life before eventually finding and joining the Church, and her amazing attitude toward life in spite of those trials. She had this wonderful smile that was crooked and contagious. Her daughter Stephanie suffered from advanced Muscular Dystrophy, and was confined to a wheelchair. Due to their financial circumstances, Sheri was Stephanie’s sole caregiver. In addition, Sheri was losing a very hard-fought battle with cancer.

One Saturday we got word that Sheri had taken a turn for the worse and might have only one or two weeks to live. The next day in church, the ward was told and it was decided to hold a ward fast on her behalf. The day the fast began, Sheri’s became very ill. She was taken to the hospital, and after a seemingly interminable wait the doctors told us she had only days to live. I called the bishop, who was traveling out of the country, and as quickly as he could get a flight he flew home.



I picked him up at LAX and we went directly to the hospital. It was heartbreaking to see Sheri in the hospital bed, on a respirator and unable to speak, and Stephanie sobbing quietly in the corner, consoled by the ward Relief Society president. The bishop and I gave Sheri a blessing, and then because there was nothing further that could be done for her medically, she was released from the hospital so she could die at home, with her daughter.

Here’s the thing, though: Sheri passed away, but not for another four weeks — and not before seeing her daughter baptized, wheelchair and all, in the bishop’s swimming pool.

At the funeral service, the bishop was asked by one of the members of the ward, “Why did this happen? What did we do wrong? Where is our miracle?” And the bishop responded, “We got our miracle! Sheri was given an extra month — 29 full days — to spend time with her daughter, and to say goodbye.” The Lord loved Sheri and Stephanie, and I can attest that those 29 days were His gift to them, and that our ward fast was most definitely rewarded with a miracle.

If we can discipline ourselves to sincerely fast and pray, and do it on a regular basis, we are promised the power to loose the bands of wickedness and become free of every yoke. Imagine having the power to become free of every yoke, every obstacle, and return to our Father in Heaven. I testify that we can, because He has promised it, and He always keeps His promises.

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