About eight years ago, I was a graduate student at Brigham Young University and began interviewing for different jobs across the nation. At that time, my wife was pregnant with our first child, and I was concerned with providing a sufficient income for our growing family. Many of my interview opportunities were for jobs located in California. I had been to California twice before, and though I enjoyed it, I was turned off by many who cited the high cost of living.
As offers started to come in, I found myself explaining the cost of living tradeoffs to my aunt. She interrupted me to teach me something that I’ll never forget. “Ah, yes, a high cost of living,” she said, “well, you see, wherever you live, it’s not the high cost of living but the cost of high living that gets you.”
In my youth, I recall learning the difference between the two: the cost of life and the cost of lifestyle. I grew up in Wisconsin, and there, my parents’ business of 20 years was failing. For a time, home equity provided the business with liquidity, and the business the home with mortgage payments. Family spending was significantly cut back as we began what would be years of drawing from reserves.
It was during that period I left to serve a mission to the Philippines. There, I served in areas with severe unemployment. Those who were lucky enough to have an income made about six dollars a day. With that, they managed to feed, clothe, and house their families. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to sustain life. As missionaries, besides rent and utilities, we were allowed four dollars a day for all other expenses, including meals, transportation, clothing, and laundry services. You would not think it, but even that small sum of consecrated funds presented a tremendous temptation to many native missionaries. The temptation was to send it home to feed the impoverished families they had left behind to serve the Lord. I have seen cost of living, and it is a few dollars a day.
Back home, as the business losses continued to mount and the dark cloud of bankruptcy loomed overhead, my father took additional employment managing a small health food chain. When I arrived home from my mission, I found the refrigerator and cupboards well stocked, but with food that had passed its marked shelf life. My mother had learned to cook meals with what food was available instead of purchasing food for planned meals. Daily, manna from heaven was arriving, but, like manna, if you kept it overnight, the already expired food could be rotten in the morning (Exodus 16).
Through the slow decline to bankruptcy, there were times when the mortgage needed paying and my parents did not know where the money would come from. Then, too, it came from the sky, through the Lord’s anointed servants, in the form of fast offerings. Together, those consecrated offerings, and that expired, but sanctified food, sustained life. Lifestyle suffered, but life continued, and we were grateful beneficiaries.
Years later, while serving as a counselor in a bishopric, I had opportunities to distribute fast offerings to those in need. The same policy was followed: sustain life, not lifestyle. So those who received truly were those in need.
On one such occasion, I assisted an elderly woman who was facing eviction. Her son had been regularly paying for her small apartment, but had difficulty making the payments the last couple of months. When it was nearly too late, he called her in tears to inform her of his inability to pay. She had little to her own name, but the ward fast offering fund had enough to cover the difference. I assisted this little elderly woman to her bank, where she procured a cashiers check from her meager savings. I brought with me a check from the church. When we visited her leasing office to pay her back rent, as I presented the check that I bore, she drew the leasing agent’s attention to it, saying in her halting english, “Young lady, you see that check? You see the name on that check? The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That is my church. I am a member of that church. The other members—they have saved me. My God has saved me.”
President Monson once said, “No member of the Church who has helped provide for those in need ever forgets or regrets the experience” (Ensign, Sept 2019). When I submit fast offerings, I do so with such experiences in mind.
While fast offerings are the Lord’s prescribed way for the church to provide for the poor and needy, when coupled with prayer, the law of the fast promises even greater blessings than temporal relief. Isaiah records, “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?” (Isaiah 58:6).
Many times in my life, I have fasted and prayed to loose the bands of wickedness that bind me, bands that too often I willingly assumed. More than once, I have specifically chosen to fast until I took a specific righteous action that I would have rather avoided. Fasting has been key to my deliverance, helping me break every yoke.
Isaiah continues, “Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am” (Isaiah 58:9). It seems that some blessings can only be obtained through fasting. In one instance, Jesus instructed his apostles who had failed to cast out an evil spirit, “this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17:21). Though not strictly mentioned as a prerequisite, Alma and the Sons of Mosiah all “fasted and prayed many days that [they] might know [eternal truths] of [themselves]” (Alma 5:46) and have “the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation” (Alma 17:3). These powerful and essential blessings, if not only available through fasting, are certainly the more easily acquired with it.
Knowing these things, prior to beginning his ministry, “Jesus was led [by] the Spirit, into the wilderness, to be with God,” where he “fasted [and prayed] for forty days and forty nights” (Matthew 4:1-2). Jesus wanted to know some things of himself and to be sure that when he would call, his Father would answer, that later, when he would have more reason than any to cry, his Father would respond, “Here I am.”
Three years later, at the close of his public ministry, Jesus stood before the tomb of a man who had lain dead for four days. In a moment of great fulfilment, “Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me...that thou hearest me always” (John 11:41-42). Jesus “cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth,” and his Father answered.
“Is this not the fast that [he] has chosen?” I know we are children of our Father in Heaven and that he invites us all to be heard. Prayer and, as appropriate, fasting, are the means to that end. Of these things I testify, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.