So the Lord said to me, “Do not pray for the welfare of this people. When they fast, I am not going to listen to their cry; and when they offer burnt offering and grain offering, I am not going to accept them. Rather I am going to make an end of them by the sword, famine and pestilence.”

The Lord’s response to Jeremiah seems harsh to our ears. The people of Israel let sin reign for too long. They wandered off again and again to other gods. Even God in His mercy and covenant faithfulness was ready to turn from them. He went as far as to tell the prophet Jeremiah not even to pray for them. Their fasts, their offerings, and their cries would not be enough to change God’s mind.

Read in isolation, these two verses could leave us hopeless. Read alone, they may leave us questioning God’s character. We may start to believe that there really is a tipping point for God’s grace. But of course, this isn’t the end of the story. God eventually relented and made a way for Israel. The time of their punishment came to an end, and He called them back to their land. But this was only because of His kindness and covenant faithfulness—not because of anything Israel did.

These verses also remind us that the outward signs of our obedience are not the ticket to God’s favor. No amount of fasting or sacrifice will merit God’s grace to us. There isn’t an offering that we can bring to account for our sin. The people of Israel often had the outer trappings of religion, while still wandering far from God (14:10). God has always been after our hearts. He sent the Messiah to rescue His people once and for all. He gives us hearts that seek Him. Only with humble hearts do we offer fasts and offerings to God.

• What are you tempted to offer God when you have wandered off? How do you bargain with Him to look past your disobedience?

• How do these verses point you to the person of Jesus? How do they remind you of the hope and power only found in Him?

• Ask the Lord to make you aware of your own wanderings. Ask Him to incline your heart to Him so your acts of offering and sacrifice are a response, not a means to an end.