The manual spends most of its time on the law of tithing. I would like to mainly address the nature of the the law of Tithing and the law of the Fast. Tithing and fasting are such visceral experiences to begin with that it can be difficult to see them in any way other than a purely physical requirement. But they are both deeply spiritual in nature.
Something that is visceral is deeply physical in nature, like hunger or pain. A visceral reaction to something is like a knee-jerk reaction – it is an involuntary reaction that comes without thinking about it. When we ask someone investigating the Church to pay 10 percent of their gross income in a tithe, or when we ask them to go without eating two meals once a month, and then on top of that pay what they would have spent on those meals to the Church, sometimes there is a knee-jerk reaction by the investigator. It takes prayer and revelation to move past the physical reaction of such requests.
The nature of commandments
The Lord has told us that at no time has He ever given us a purely physical or temporal commandment. All of His commandments are spiritual. See Doctrine and Covenants 29:34–35.
34 Wherefore, verily I say unto you that all things unto me are spiritual, and not at any time have I given unto you a law which was temporal; neither any man, nor the children of men; neither Adam, your father, whom I created.
35 Behold, I gave unto him that he should be an agent unto himself; and I gave unto him commandment, but no temporal commandment gave I unto him, for my commandments are spiritual; they are not natural nor temporal, neither carnal nor sensual.
So no matter how much your stomach growls while you fast, if that is all you can think about then you have missed the point of fasting. If all you can think about when you pay your tithing is how else you could spend that money then you have missed the point of tithing. Now let’s look at the connection between the physical act and spirituality.
How is fasting connected to spirituality?
I don’t know of anyone who can give a full and complete answer to this question, but I can give some insights. Remember that all commandments are designed to help us learn how to be like our Father in Heaven. We look to Christ as our exemplar. He showed us the way. Unfortunately, he lived a long time ago and we only have scant records as to what he did and how it was done. Most of what we learn of Christ will be through studying the scriptures and applying what we learn in our lives. We will have to learn by doing.
The most notable thing about fasting is that when we first start to learn to fast we have difficulty getting past being hungry. Our body cries out for attention and is offended by our apparent neglect. Eventually, we learn that the hunger doesn’t weigh so heavily upon us if we learn to focus on others. Serving others gets our mind off our stomach and onto more important matters.
We are surprised the first time we realize we have gone without two meals and hardly noticed our hunger. That alone is a revelation. It can be done, and death wasn’t the result. When we learn to master life without food we come to realize that we are finding joy in the service we provide others while we are fasting. It is almost impossible to focus on self and not suffer during a fast. We have to turn our attention away from self to the needs of others.
That need to do for others can come in the form of family activities, church service, studying scriptures, reading good and uplifting literature, visiting others and enjoying their company, and even writing in journals or writing letters to missionaries or family members.
Do you see the pattern here? All of these activities get us outside of our own heads and into thinking of others. This is the permanent state of mind for our Savior and our Father in Heaven. They never obsess over themselves. They are constantly thinking and acting for the welfare of someone else. This is what brings them joy. This is part of the reason they refer to fasting and prayer as rejoicing and prayer (D&C 59:13–14).
13 And on this day thou shalt do none other thing, only let thy food be prepared with singleness of heart that thy fasting may be perfect, or, in other words, that thy joy may be full.
14 Verily, this is fasting and prayer, or in other words, rejoicing and prayer.
Doesn’t doing good make our hearts lighter? Doesn’t it bring a smile to our lips and a spring to our step? This is the intended end to fasting, to bring us closer to God and our fellow travelers in mortality. But fasting has other benefits as well. When we subject our body to the will of our spirit there is a spiritual boost that comes from that act. Somehow it is tied to eternal law. Controlling our body by seeking spiritual ends satisfies the demands of certain laws, allowing God to bless us in ways that those who do not fast, or don’t know how to do it properly, can’t receive.
When we couple the act of fasting with communing with God through prayer, study, and pondering, we are able to open communication with heaven that is more pure and refined than at almost any other time. Our faith and belief gets a boost. Our mind becomes more clear and free of the distractions of mortality, and our feelings become more free to be felt and expressed. This truly is an experience that can be described as our joy being more full.
So even though fasting is all about going without food to begin with, with practice we learn that fasting is really all about connecting with God. It brings us peace, joy, contentment, and happiness. When done properly, fasting and prayer brings us closer to God because we are acting more like Him, and experiencing life more like He does.
What about tithing?
The things I said about fasting can also be used to explain how paying money isn’t about our finances. Like food is precious to our body, and we initially fear going without, so too is money all too precious in this world, and we fear what will happen to us when we are asked to give it away with no immediate vision for how all our bills will be paid when we do it.
Just like fasting, there are laws in place that open the spiritual floodgates when we are willing to part with our substance for the right reasons and in the right way. We are blessed with prosperity that is deliberately undefined in the scriptures. But anyone who has gained a testimony of paying their tithing can tell you that you can’t put a pricetag on the blessings the Lord pours out on those who willingly give of their hard-earned goods because they desire to be obedient to the Lord.
Our Father in Heaven has put laws in place that require a desire to be obedient in order to be satisfied. Once satisfied, all the blessings that come with those laws are freely given to us. And they are tailored to our needs. They range from blessing our personal goals to blessing our businesses, our family relationships, our personal spirituality, and so much more.
Once we focus our eye, which refers to the object of our desire, on the Lord and His work and glory, and we obey these commandments, the veritable windows of heaven are opened to accommodate all the blessings that are poured out on the heads of those who have complied with the laws that govern those blessings. Yes, they may look on the surface to be completely physical in nature, but the Lord hopes we will learn to see beyond the physical and see the potential for joy and understanding that comes with compliance to His laws.
Happiness, peace, and a closer relationship with God is the aim of both these commandments. They are simple acts to perform, but take years of effort to learn to tap into the true power of what they have to offer to us. And in the case of tithing, sometimes it takes many years to learn to appreciate the bigger picture of just how much of our prosperity, and spiritual blessings are connected to this simple commitment to give of ourselves to the work of the Lord.