I feel spiritually filled after General Conference this last week. I don't think I even realized how much I needed that spiritual nourishment until it was over and I felt so much better.
There were so many wonderful talks and I could probably write a post about most of them, but I was especially touched by Elder Holland's talk on caring for the poor and needy. During his talk I felt prompted that I needed to share my thoughts about fasting and fast offerings.
Elder Holland spoke about our duty to care for those who are poor or struggling. At the end of his talk he spoke about the law of the fast and how our fast offerings are used to bless the poor and the needy in our congregations. He said,
"You will recognize that I speak here of difficult societal needs that go well beyond members of the Church. Fortunately the Lord’s way of assisting our own is easier: all who are physically able are to observe the law of the fast. Isaiah wrote: “Is not this the fast that I have chosen? … “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 … ? [that thou] undo the heavy burdens, and … let the oppressed go free … ?”
I know that for a long time I didn't understand the connection between fasting and taking care of the poor. Then one day in college I was struggling with a problem and I desperately needed help from God. I decided that I was going to fast until I got an answer. Two and a half days later I ended my fast, and not only did I have my answer, but I also had a new understanding of fasting. At the time I was taking a class on International Development and we had been talking about global solutions to poverty. As I sat in class my hungry tummy rumbled and the thought came to me, "Would you be willing to go hungry so that some who was starving could eat?"
It was then that the connection between fasting and caring for the poor became clear to me. I realized that my going without food wasn't just about mastering my physical body or personal suffering. I was voluntarily sacrificing what I had, and what I wanted, on behalf of another. I was going hungry so that someone else could have food to eat. I was suffering so that someone else didn't have to. That was a powerful realization for me and forever changed how I viewed fasting.
Fasting is a Christ-like sacrifice that not only blesses the lives of those who are in need but also allows God to open up the windows of heaven and bless you. Elder Holland bore testimony of this in his talk when he said:
"I bear witness of the miracles, both spiritual and temporal, that come to those who live the law of the fast. I bear witness of the miracles that have come to me. Truly, as Isaiah recorded, I have cried out in the fast more than once, and truly God has responded, “Here I am.” Cherish that sacred privilege at least monthly, and be as generous as circumstances permit in your fast offering and other humanitarian, educational, and missionary contributions. I promise that God will be generous to you, and those who find relief at your hand will call your name blessed forever.
I just want to add my own testimony to what Elder Holland said. I know that when we sacrifice for others and when we give generously to the Lord he blesses us.
Several years ago Jon and I were struggling financially. Jon was in the last semesters of his graduate program and he no longer qualified for financial aid. We found ourselves emptying our savings in order to pay for his last year of tuition. We had enough for our needs but were just squeaking by. It was a challenging time.
Every morning and night when we would pray Jon would ask the Lord, "that we might have enough to meet all our debts and obligations." Each time he would pray this I would get the prompting, "You need to increase your fast offering", but I would quickly push it aside because it seemed ridiculous. We were already paying a generous fast offering each month. In fact, I'd been thinking about decreasing our fast offering. Increasing it seemed like a bad idea. I was sure that if we did that we'd probably be the ones who would NEED the fast offering assistance from the bishop.
Yet, the feeling persisted. So one day, when Jon and I were going through finances again, I told him I thought that the Lord wanted us to increase our fast offering. My husband is a man of great faith, and so he didn't even blink twice before he agreed with me. "Done", he said, "Lets double it".
At that point I was certain we were doomed. It seemed like a stupid thing to do. I wasn't sure how we were going to pay for everything
It was scary, it seemed crazy, and probably went against sound financial planing... but we doubled our fast offering.
And can I tell you what happened.
We never ran out.
Some how there was always enough money. Enough money for food, enough money for gas, enough for our mortgage, enough to have a baby and pay the midwife, enough to finish school and somehow... even enough for our wants (like the time I won a brand new iPad at a raffle).
The Lord took care of us.
And not only that-- He was generous to us--- and I firmly believe it was because we were willing to be generous with Him and increased our fast offering at a time when it was really hard to do.
I know my testimony is simple. But I wanted to add my voice to that of Elder Holland's, because I too have seen miracles come through fasting and paying a generous fast offering. I've come to see that if a fast doesn't push you physically and the fast offering doesn't stretch you financially, it really isn't worth that much.
It is the times when you really take the Lord at His word and do all that you can when He really is able to open the windows of heaven for you and pour out the blessings. When you are generous with God He is generous with you.
What have your experiences been with fasting and fast offerings? What blessings have you received from the law of the fast?