Isaiah wrote: "in the day of your fast ye find pleasure" (Isaiah 58:3). I have never understood how fasting can be pleasurable. I have never enjoyed being hungry and as a result I have always struggled with fasting. I can't think of a time where I really wanted to do it. I could see that it could be used with prayer, but I never saw any direct results where it was more efficient than just praying.
Several months ago one of my friends started fasting regularly. She was finding it to be a wonderful experience and I desired to have a similar experience with fasting. I prayed asking the Lord to teach me about fasting. I wanted to know how to fast in order to make it an effective experience.
Recently, as I have been trying to become more healthy, another friend of mine introduced me to fasting regularly as a way to become healthy. She was doing it and it was working for her and so I thought I'd try it. During the fast as I was saying my regular prayers, I was surprised when the Lord rebuked me, stating that I was not using the fast as a way to connect to Him. Like the Israelites, I was doing it for selfish purposes and not as a way to draw closer to God:
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? (Isaiah 58:5)I immediately stopped the fast and repented, determined that I would pray about something specific the next time I fasted. Within the next week I realized that I had a question for the Lord. I had actually been praying about it for a while but hadn't yet received any answers. During that week I began to become more desperate for an answer. I felt stuck and unable to progress without knowing what the Lord's will was in this situation. I then realized this was the perfect opportunity to fast. As I fasted, I prayed in my heart constantly for an answer. I begged the Lord for revelation. Every time I felt hungry, my prayers intensified. I wanted understanding from Him more than I wanted food. I told Him that I would continue to fast until I received an answer from Him. (This was not an outrageous request but something I knew He was wanting to tell me so that I could progress.) After about 40 hours I received an answer from Him and I knew what His will was for me. I was able to stop my fast then.
Every time I fast now I consider how food is symbolic of the word of God (see Hebrews 5:12-14) and through my fasting I am able to obtain revelation from Him. In other words, I think about how I am able to feast on His word as a result of my fast. Then, when I eat after my fast, I think about how it is symbolic of receiving revelation as a result of my fast.
After that particular fast, I began to fast more regularly. I love how close I feel to the Lord and fasting no longer feels burdensome. Yes, it is hard because it isn't pleasant feeling hungry, but I want to feel as close to the Lord as I can and fasting enables me to do so. Sometimes I just fast for a day and other times I fast for longer. (There are many examples in the scriptures of people fasting for 2-3 days.)
I have been working on overcoming a specific weakness for a long time and I have made a lot of progress, through God giving me understanding as well as experiences. However, I still have the weakness. I have begged God to take it from me because I have done everything I can to overcome it, but I still have it. Recently I had the thought that I ought to fast to help me overcome this weakness. As I fast for help overcoming this weakness, I beg God to help me overcome my flesh. I feel like I am slowly getting closer to overcoming it, although I can tell that it will take much time.
Isaiah said that since we are begging God for help, we ought to be willing to help alleviate the burdens of others. This is an important part of fasting.
6 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?King Benjamin also wrote about the importance of knowing we are all beggars before God and if we want answers and help from Him, we ought to be willing to help others:
7 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? (Isaiah 58)
19 For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?We can fast for various reasons: fasting gives us access to the power of God (Matthew 17:14-21; Esther 4:16); fasting enables us to receive light and truth (Acts 10:30-33; Acts 13:1-3; Alma 5:44-47; 17:3); fasting humbles us (Psalm 35:13). I have come to realize that fasting can also help me as I strive to develop a pure heart and overcome my weaknesses. Every time I fast, I can feel how I am subduing my flesh and developing a deeper, closer connection with God. In fact, when done correctly, fasting is a vital tool in sanctification.
20 And behold, even at this time, ye have been calling on his name, and begging for a remission of your sins. And has he suffered that ye have begged in vain? Nay; he has poured out his Spirit upon you, and has caused that your hearts should be filled with joy, and has caused that your mouths should be stopped that ye could not find utterance, so exceedingly great was your joy.
21 And now, if God, who has created you, on whom you are dependent for your lives and for all that ye have and are, doth grant unto you whatsoever ye ask that is right, in faith, believing that ye shall receive, O then, how ye ought to impart of the substance that ye have one to another. (Mosiah 4)
My understanding and appreciation of fasting has grown over time. I have sought the Lord to enlighten my mind regarding it and He certainly has. The changes in how I fast are subtle, but at the same time significant enough so that I can now say "in the day of [my] fast [I] find pleasure" (Isaiah 58:3). If fasting still feels like a burden to you, pray and ask God to help you understand how to improve your fasting and use it as a tool to become sanctified.