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Fasting in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: An interview with James Holt

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O ye who believe! fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may become righteous.’ [1]

Fasting has existed in some form in many world religions. The Review of Religions is pleased to publish a series of interviews about fasting with authentic voices from different faiths. Beliefs expressed in these articles are those of the individuals interviewed, to whom we are extremely grateful for sharing their very valuable insights.


James Holt is an Associate Professor of Religious Education at the University of Chester. James has been a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for over 30 years and has served as a Bishop and a member of a Stake Presidency. He is married to Ruth and they have four children.

Can you provide an overview of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was founded in 1830. It has its roots in the ‘First Vision’ of 1820 where we believe that the founder of the Church, Joseph Smith saw God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. Joseph received a promise that the Church would be Restored through him at some future point. The Church describes itself as a Restoration of the Church that Jesus Christ established when he was on the earth, and as such are within the Christian family of Churches. The belief in a Living prophet continues up until today with the current President of the Church, Russell M. Nelson. 

The central beliefs of the Church and its members surround the identity of Jesus Christ as the Son of God, who died for humanity and lives again today. Every other belief of the Church stems from this fundamental belief. In addition to The Holy Bible as a book of scripture, Latter-day Saints also accept The Book of Mormon, The Doctrine and Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price as additional books of scripture.

Does fasting take place in your tradition?

Fasting is a central aspect of my practice as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and has been since its earliest days.

When do you fast?

The first Sunday of each month is set aside as a day to fast from all food and drink for a period of 24 hours, though as circumstances necessitate we can fast more often. There may be people because of age or health who are unable to fast for this length of time, some will fast for shorter periods of time, while others will be more conscious of their prayers.

Why do you fast?

The purposes of a fast are manifold, but the most important for me is that it is a way for me to draw close to Jesus who I believe as my Saviour and to my Heavenly Father. As I fast, my thoughts should be less about me and more about the Jesus Christ, and also how I can help others. Isaiah 58 is perhaps the best passage of scripture that helps me understand the nature and purpose of a fast; he first off identifies what a fast is not:

‘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?’ [2]

Although fasting is a sacrifice, it is not a time of mourning or ‘woe is me’; this is echoed by Christ in the Gospels:

‘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. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.’ [3]

What are the blessings of fasting?

It is a great blessing to be able to fast, and I take this opportunity I need to recognise its purpose and see the blessing it is for me in my life. As I fast I always ensure that I begin and end the process with a prayer; and as part of the prayer there is usually a purpose for which I am praying. Isaiah mentions this as well, he suggests:

‘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?’ [4]

He speaks about loosing the bands of wickedness, letting the oppressed go free and many other purposes. I fast for people to be healed/strengthened [5]; for comfort [6]; to draw closer to the Saviour [7] and to resist temptation. It adds strength and fervency to the prayers that I offer. It is not the Lord that needs my fast, but it is me that needs the humility and closeness to the Lord that comes through fasting:

‘Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy reward.’ [8]

At the age of 16/17, I had been encouraged to fast about the truthfulness of The Book of Mormon, and I had extended this invitation to incorporate a question about whether I should serve a mission. I fasted and prayed – and remember reading 3 Nephi 17 with tears in my eyes. My testimony was confirmed and there has not been a single doubt since then. Through this experience, I understood the power of fasting to gain an answer to prayer.

What are other benefits of fasting?

Isaiah speaks of the blessings of the fast:

‘And the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.’ [9]

Fasting accompanied by prayer is essential for me as a Latter-day Saint but its underlying purpose is to develop my relationship with God, and therefore my spirituality. This blessing is also taught in The Book of Mormon:

‘Nevertheless they did fast and pray oft, and did wax stronger and stronger in their humility, and firmer and firmer in the faith of Christ, unto the filling their souls with joy and consolation, yea, even to the purifying and the sanctification of their hearts, which sanctification cometh because of their yielding their hearts unto God.’ [10]

While I welcome the opportunity to gain new insights and revelation through fasting, I rarely fast on my own behalf. Most often it is for other people who are struggling with physical, emotional or spiritual health. In thinking of others, I am also able to turn to God.

Returning to Isaiah, one of the purposes of fasting 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?’ [11]

An integral part of my fast is to help those who are less fortunate. As part of my fast, I give an offering of money to the Church which is to be used to help those in need. This is another way for me to think less about myself and more about others.

In today’s world, fasting is a way for me to rest from the world and take time to reorient my focus and recognise the Lord’s hand in my life, something I should be aware of each day.


ENDNOTES

[1] Holy Qur’an Ch.2: V.184

[2] Isaiah 58:5

[3] Matthew 6:16

[4] Isaiah 58:6

[5] Mosiah 27:22-23, Book of Mormon

[6] Alma 28:4-6, Book of Mormon

[7] Helaman 3:35, Book of Mormon

[8] Isaiah 58:8

[9] Isaiah 53:11

[10] Helaman 3:35, Book of Mormon

[11] Isaiah 58:7

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