Is there a limit to how often one can fast? Has one of the brethren told us to not fast too much? The spirit and the scriptures has been my guide on this and of course I wouldn’t jeopardize my health either. But has there been some statement by some of the brethren about fasting too much? This is what I’ve been told by a couple close friends.
When the Lord restored the gift of translation to Joseph Smith following the loss of the 116 pages of the Book of Lehi, the Lord told the Prophet Joseph to be faithful and continue translating the Book of Mormon until it was finished. He then gave the Prophet some sound counsel which is found in the Doctrine and Covenants section 10: “4 Do not run faster or labor more than you have strength and means provided to enable you to translate; but be diligent unto the end.” The Prophet was expected to continue translating the Book of Mormon until it was finished, but he still needed to receive nourishment and strength, as well as take care of his other responsibilities. The Lord does not expect us to do more than what we are capable of doing or to do it faster than we have the strength to, but we are expected to “Endure to the End” and complete tasks that may be assigned us.
The following advice, given by Lindsay R. Curtis M.D., concerning the fast and fasting appeared in the Ensign: “Sometimes Latter-day Saints think that if it is good to fast for 24 hours, it is three times as good to fast for 72 hours. Health wise nothing could be farther from the truth. Missionaries, especially, must have strength to carry out their work and should not over-indulge in fasting anymore than in food-faddism. Let’s follow the counsel of our leaders ‘that food and drink are not to be partaken of for twenty-four hours. …’ If longer fasting is required of us, they will so direct us.”
President Joseph F. Smith in his book “Gospel Doctrine” stated the following concerning fasting and fast day: “… The Lord has instituted the fast on a reasonable and intelligent basis, and none of his works are vain or unwise. His law is perfect in this as in other things. Hence, those who can, are required to comply thereto; it is a duty from which they cannot escape; but let it be remembered that the observance of the Fast Day by abstaining twenty-four hours from food and drink is not an absolute rule, it is no iron-clad law to us, but it is left with the people as a matter of conscience, to exercise wisdom and discretion. Many are subject to weakness, others are delicate in health, and others have nursing babies; of such it should not be required to fast. Neither should parents compel their little children to fast. I have known children to cry for something to eat on fast day. In such cases, going without food will do them no good. Instead, they dread the day to come, and in place of hailing it, dislike it; while the compulsion engenders a spirit of rebellion in them, rather than a love for the Lord and their fellows. Better teach them the principle, and let them observe it when they are old enough to choose intelligently, than to so compel them.” (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1939], pp. 243, 244.)
On different occasions we have been asked by our leaders to fast for someone who might be ill or in need of a special blessing, for people who have gone through disasters, or to petition the Lord for help in changing certain circumstances, such as lack of rain. These have often been in conjunction with our normal fast day and have been quite infrequent.
There will be times when you might feel the need to fast prior to giving a Priesthood blessing or prior to praying to the Lord. In Matthew 17 we are told of a situation where the Lord’s disciples were unable to cast out a devil from a young man. When the Lord was able to cast out the devil, the disciples asked Him why they were unable to, the Lord scolded them and then said: “21 Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.”
As with anything we need to use moderation in the amount of fasting we do. We are also told in the New Testament that when we fast we should “appear not unto men” that we are fasting. As with our prayers to the Lord, we should do it in secret, and He will reward us “openly”.