The Law of the Fast: More than just disfigured faces

On this fast Sunday, I began to think about my own experiences fasting, which, to be honest, weren’t too meaningful in my younger days. I can honestly say 90% of the fasts that preceded my mission were my own “hunger games” that I would endure until 4:00 came around. I would even be so candid as to admit that when I was much younger I would sneak downstairs, steal some snacks while the rest of the family was taking their Sunday naps after church, and munch until dinner.

Now, I can confidently say I didn’t pull any of these shenanigans on my mission, but looking back even then I don’t feel like I completely understood the Law of the Fast. Because of our busy schedules, I was so used to only  having one meal a day that Fast Sunday sometimes felt like any other day. So let’s first take a moment to  understand what NOT to do on Fast Sunday.

Jesus is known for rich detail whenever illustrating a point, and fasting was no exception. “Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast.” (Matthew 6:16) Can you imagine what that looked like? Such drama! Such fanfare! The true meaning of the law was all too often lost in the pitiful countenances of the poor individuals who had to undertake such a difficult task. (Yes, that was sarcasm ;))


Who would’ve thought Isaiah could come to the rescue and actually help explain what is meant by obeying the law of the fast? I think we too often run away from his words in fear and confusion that we forget there are some pretty fascinating subjects discussed in the Book of Isaiah!

Before we get there, though, here’s what President Marion G. Romney said of the Law of the Fast in relation to Isaiah 58:

You remember that Isaiah speaks of the people who came to the Lord and said: “Wherefore have we fasted…and thou seest not?” Because, came the answer, you do not keep the fast which I commanded. True, you bow down your heads as a bulrush and spread sackcloth and ashes under your feet, but you do not deal your bread to the hungry, nor provide housing for the poor, nor do you cover the naked.

When you do these things, “then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am.” (see Isaiah 58:3-9) (1)

The Law of the Fast is really all about the greatest of all commandments: to love. From our fasting comes generous donations called fast offerings, which is usually the approximate sum of what you would’ve spent on the two meals you went without. No  commandment given of the Lord is for our benefit only!

Once the Law of the Fast is observed, notice all the blessings that flow from keeping this commandment. They can be found in Isaiah 58:8-11–

  1. Thy light shall break forth as the morning
  2. Thine health shall spring forth speedily
  3. Thy righteousness shall go before thee
  4. The glory of the Lord shall be thy rereward (rearguard).
  5. The Lord shall guide thee continually
  6. He shall satisfy thy soul in drought and make fat thy bones
  7. Thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not

And to think all we are required to do is go without food and water for two consecutive meals once a month and donate a little bit of money to the poor. But aren’t all the commandments this way? They can be, for a small instant, difficult to endure, such as paying tithing when the budget is tight or living the Law of Chastity when passion seems to overwhelm the natural senses.

If I have ever struggled to live a law or commandment from God, it really helps to make a pro/con list, even though I know God will win out every time anyway 😉 Truly, heavenly blessings outweigh worldly blessings in a tremendous way.

We live in a world where instant gratification is sought for almost hourly, if not minutely, but the Law of the Fast helps reinforce the principle of self control and the multitude of blessings that come as a result.

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, of the member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, explained there are even more blessings to fasting than mentioned above. He said:

We observe that in the scriptures, fasting almost always is linked with prayer. Without prayer, fasting is not complete fasting; it’s simply going hungry. If we want our fasting to be more than just going without eating, we must lift our hearts, our minds, and our voices in communion with our Heavenly Father. Fasting, coupled with mighty prayer, is powerful. It can fill our minds with the revelations of the Spirit. It can strengthen us against times of temptation.

Fasting and prayer can help develop within us courage and confidence. It can strengthen our character and build self-restraint and discipline. Testimonies grow. We mature spiritually and emotionally and sanctify our souls. Each time we fast, we gain a little more control over our worldly appetites and passions.

Fasting and prayer can help us in our families and in our daily work. They can help us magnify our callings in the Church.” (2)

I’m personally grateful for the Law of the Fast! It becomes easier the more I think about others and the imperfections in my own life, which are many. I hope you will continue to cherish this wonderful law as well!




(1) Marion G. Romney, The Royal Law of Love, April 1978 Ensign

(2) Joseph B. Wirthlin, The Law of the Fast, April 2001 Ensign

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Posted on December 2, 2012, in Fasting. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I love that! That fasting is as much about love! It was my privilege today, to step in to tithing settlement, and walk out realizing what fasting this year really means to me. It was more than answering a prayer, or receiving an answer for myself. It was also about giving to someone else what little I can do. I left the bishop’s office with more love and gratitude having understood this. Thanks Matt!

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