I have listened to many lessons on tithing and fast offerings over the years. Many lessons focus on what these collected monies are used for, but President Henry B. Eyring’s recent conference address (Is Not This the Fast That I Have Chosen, Apr. 2015 General Conference) focused on the blessings received by those willing to fast. The answer he gave was that where paying our fast offering helps those in need, it will most importantly give everyone the opportunity for more light and power.
The law of the fast can be found in Isaiah 58. First, it states what a fast isn’t. “Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways … they ask of me the ordinances of justice; they take delight in approaching to God.” Either this was translated incorrectly, or there is a note of sarcasm in this verse, because the footnotes explain, “They do all the rituals, but lack something yet” (Isaiah 58:2a).
President Eyring told the story of Sister Abie Turay, who survived the civil war that ravaged her country of Sierra Leone in 1991. She expressed gratitude for receiving donated items that reached her family that she still treasures today. She also praised the mission president who found them and gave them fast offering donations to buy food.
Later, someone visited her in her home and happened to find a tithing donation slip that showed she had paid one dollar each to tithing, missionary fund, and fast offering. The law of the fast was powerful as it touched her deep in her heart, and she felt to make her own offering as soon as she was able.
For some people, paying fast offerings may just be a habit, or an obligation to fulfill that requires little thought. The amount is simply what we think we can afford without thought of any true sacrifice on our part. Over the years, we have been asked to double our fast offerings. Yes, there are more disasters and more and more needs than ever before, but perhaps what we are really being asked to do is to give money until it hurts; until we are humble enough to recognize the sacrifice involved and feel the power of participating in the good that happens because of our increased effort.
A Church pamphlet entitled Tithing and Fast Offering (© 2007 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc.) states, “Fasting, which has always been an indication of the true Church, is an opportunity for spiritual renewal and growing closer to our Heavenly Father.” This is a statement that alludes more to the giver than the receiver. As Tithing is a commandment to acknowledge our dependence on God, so is fast offering—especially an offering that is much more than we think we can offer—an opportunity to put our faith and trust in the Lord to lift and carry us, as we lift and carry others.
President J. Reuben Clark, Jr. taught:
“The real long term objective of the Welfare Plan is the building of character in the members of the Church, givers and receivers, rescuing all that is finest down deep inside of them, and bringing to flower and fruitage the latent richness of the spirit, which after all is the mission and purpose and reason for being of this Church (in special meeting of stake presidents, Oct. 2, 1936)” (Handbook 2, 6.1.2).
I live in an area where homes are being built and new families are moving in every week. Two families built their homes, moved in, and promptly lost their jobs and income. At no fault of their own, they were forced out by downsizing. One of these families decided that to show appreciation for the money they were receiving through fast offering, they would use regular hours of their day to serve others. This became their routine, and as they invited others to join them, a true spirit of companionship and love developed around them. The other family shared some of their experiences in Sacrament Meeting that they had witnessed many miracles of generosity from others, felt an increased faith in their own home, and a greater love for all of God’s children during this difficult time. They neglected to mention all of the service they have performed throughout the neighborhood.
When ward fasts have been announced, we have all happily, and prayerfully, fasted for dear friends who are struggling with an assortment of trials. Knowing that someone has prayed for you, and called upon the Lord with an empty stomach for you, is spiritually humbling and nurturing. Likewise, extending one’s self for, and in behalf of someone else, is spiritually filling, humbling, and faith-promoting.
The blessings that come from fasting are explained beautifully in Isaiah 58. Verse 6 explains that by experiencing the physical act of fasting, we can “loose the bands of wickedness” that wear us down. We will have increased power to withstand temptations that come from Satan. We are also promised that our burdens will be made light. Is it really possible to find peace while fasting over existing problems? Yes, the Lord has promised it. When we unload our troubles to the Lord He says, “I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).
Continuing in Isaiah verse 8, we are promised that we will have light in our lives. The Light of the Gospel will shine in us and through us. Having the Savior and His light with us will bring us happiness and joy, even through our darkest trials. This was shown in President Eyring’s example of Sister Turay and her desire to pay fast offering “for those who were ‘truly poor.’”
Finally, the greatest blessing of all is to have the Lord answer whenever we call. President Eyring shared Joseph F. Smith’s counsel. When we understand the principle of the fast, and have it firmly planted in our hearts, our fasting and prayers can not only lead to blessing someone in need, but affect our own lives by giving us the spiritual power to receive inspiration and a greater capacity to resist temptation. Continuing in verses 11-12, the Lord will “satisfy thy soul in drought … make fat thy bones … and thou shalt be like a watered garden.” Because we typically receive much when we serve, we will be called “The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in” by the Lord. What honor is received by serving with the Lord. And how good to participate in this law; the law of the fast.