Author and pastor Matt Miofsky examines the life of Jeremiah, whose failed pursuits are described in more detail and depth than with any other prophet. Even though God set him apart to speak to the nation of Israel, Jeremiah's attempts to fulfill his calling were met with ridicule, punishment, and suffering. But through it all, God never left his side.
The story of "the weeping prophet" has much to teach us about trusting God during life's most trying times.
The Leader Guide contains everything needed to guide a group through the five-week study including session plans, activities, and discussion questions, as well as multiple format options.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Planning the Session
As a result of conversations and activities connected with this session, group members should begin to:
explore Jeremiah's background and the difficult circumstances he faced;
examine our own contemporary context;
acknowledge personal challenges;
reflect on how we can choose to respond.
These are the words of Jeremiah, Hilkiah's son, who was one of the priests from Anathoth in the land of Benjamin. The Lord's word came to Jeremiah in the thirteenth year of Judah's King Josiah, Amon's son, and throughout the rule of Judah's King Jehoiakim, Josiah's son, until the fifth month of the eleventh year of King Zedekiah, Josiah's son, when the people of Jerusalem were taken into exile.
Have available a notebook or paper, along with a pen or pencil, for anyone who did not bring a notebook or an electronic device for journaling.
For the activity "Examine Our Contemporary Context," print the following on a large sheet of paper or a board: The word of the Lord came to the people of (your church name) in the days of __________________.
Then head three separate large sheets of paper or three separate locations on a board with each of the following:
Like Jeremiah, we were all born into a certain location with certain social and historical realities.
Like Jeremiah, we were all born into a particular kind of family.
Like Jeremiah, we all have been thrust into situations that we didn't choose or couldn't control.
Decide if you will do any of the alternative activities. For the activity in which participants conduct a job interview, you will need a large sheet of paper or a board and marker.
For the activity of identifying Scriptures, participants will need access to concordances, either the printed variety or an online concordance such as that on BibleGateway.com. You will need sheets of printer or construction paper, tape, and markers. On a large sheet of paper, in large letters print Jeremiah 1:8:
"Don't be afraid of them, because I'm with you to rescue you," declares the Lord.
As participants arrive, welcome them to the study. Gather together. If participants are not familiar with one another, provide nametags and make introductions.
Form pairs, and invite partners to discuss the following:
Where and when in your life, if at all, did you learn how to fail? How did you learn how to deal with failure?
After allowing a few minutes for pairs to discuss, ask one or two volunteers to report some of their conversation to the whole group.
Call the group's attention to Matt Miofsky's idea that some of our best learning experiences actually happen through our setbacks, disappointments, and failures. In this study, participants will explore failure and the lessons that we can learn from it through the lens of Scripture and specifically through the story of the prophet Jeremiah. By encountering how God worked in and through Jeremiah's failures, we will have the opportunity to see how God can also work through our own failures.
Pray together, using the following prayer or one of your own choosing:
O Holy God, we are all too aware of our own failures. Yet we have hope that you can use us, as imperfect as we may be. Guide us as we seek to explore more fully how our failures can be a source of growth. Help us trust in your power to shape us according to your purposes. Amen.
Video Study and Discussion
In this series, author and pastor Matt Miofsky introduces us to the prophet Jeremiah. He explores how God worked in and through Jeremiah's failures and setbacks in the hope that we can see how God also can work through our own failures. Session 1 gives us some background about the difficult circumstances in which the prophet lived and to which he was called by God to respond.
What is grit? What is the relationship between grit and how we respond to difficult circumstances in our lives?
Miofsky tells us that Jeremiah was born at the worst possible time, in the worst possible place, and given the worst possible job. What about Jeremiah's circumstances would cause us to label them in this way? What message was Jeremiah called to deliver?
We learn that there is a whole host of circumstances in our own lives that we cannot control. What are some challenging circumstances you have faced, and how have you responded? Would you characterize your own life as risk-taking, bold, adventurous? Why or why not?
Book and Bible Study and Discussion
Explore Jeremiah's Background
Many difficult or challenging circumstances of our lives are largely out of our control. But how we respond to those circumstances will determine whether they build us up or bring us down. It was just such difficult circumstances that Jeremiah was facing.
Ask someone to read aloud the foundational Scripture, Jeremiah 1:1-3. Ask a second volunteer to continue with verses 4-8 and a third to complete the passage by reading verses 9-10. Remind the group that they were just introduced to Jeremiah's historical context in the video segment. Point out that in the era referred to as BC, time is measured in a way that seems backward to us, from the earliest date forward to later ones. So the time period in which Jeremiah was active was from around from 626 BC until at least 587 BC. Discuss:
The author remarks that Jeremiah was born into a perfect storm. Why does he characterize those times in that way? What was going on?
Name the three prominent jobs or vocations we can find throughout the Old Testament. Which one does the author identify as the most difficult? Why? What job of the three could Jeremiah have reasonably expected would have been his?
If you had to write a job description for a prophet, what would you list as skills essential to the position? How would you describe the job responsibilities? How do these responsibilities differ from the conventional wisdom of today's culture about what a prophet did or does?
Examine Our Contemporary Context
Ask someone to read the foundational Scripture aloud again, and point out the contextual "pegs" Jeremiah uses to identify the time period being described. Invite participants to think of particular events in the recent past that might serve as their own contextual pegs; for example, now and in the future, the peg "9/11" would call to mind the attack on the Twin Towers. Or the name "Challenger" might evoke the explosion of the space shuttle, or calling to mind "Pearl Harbor" instantly would evoke the attack on December 7, 1941.
Call the attention of the group to the prompt you posted. ("The word of the Lord came to the people of [your church name] in the days of __________________.") Ask:
How would you complete that open-ended sentence to briefly identify, as Jeremiah does, the larger context in which we live? Other than the year, what identifiers might we use so that people in the future would know what time we are talking about?
Then ask participants to call out, popcorn style, some of the broader cultural, political, social, or geographic realities with which we are presently living. Jot these down on the sheet headed, "Like Jeremiah, we were all born into a certain location with certain social and historical realities." Discuss:
Which of these realities present significant challenges for us today?
Invite participants to consider the social and historical realities they identified. Discuss:
We read that Jeremiah lived during a particularly volatile and ultimately tragic period in the history of the Jewish people. How, if at all, would you say that our present context compares with the context in which Jeremiah lived?
Would you characterize our times as volatile, or would you choose other words to describe them?
Encounter Personal Challenges
Call the group's attention to the second posted statement. ("Like Jeremiah, we were all born into a particular kind of family.") Then ask participants to review what the author says to expand on his statement. And ask them to write in their journals a few sentences describing the family into which each of them was born or adopted.
Point out the third posted statement. ("Like Jeremiah, we all have been thrust into situations that we didn't choose or couldn't control.") Again, ask participants to review what the author says that expands on his statement. Then encourage them to describe in their journals any personal situations or circumstances beyond their control or not of their choosing, either recently or from their past.
After allowing a few minutes for participants to respond in writing, bring the group together for discussion. Acknowledge that some of the responses participants wrote probably reflect deeply personal experiences and realities. Without pressuring anyone to reveal personal information, invite those who are willing to do so to respond to some of the following:
Many of the personal challenges that participants noted are things that happen to us, around us, even within us — not because of us. Which circumstances in your own life are true of this statement?
Which are realities for which you bear some responsibility?
In what ways are you being defined by forces and circumstances outside your direct control? How does it make you feel? Does it make you angry? Defeated or discouraged? Numb? Do you experience some other emotion or a combination of conflicting feelings?
Reflect on How We Might Respond
As the author observes, when we are faced with circumstances and contexts over which we may have little control, we ultimately have two choices. We can choose to focus on our challenges, making them excuses for why things are not working out as we had hoped. Or we can focus on how we are going to respond and how we may follow God even in the midst of those realities. Invite a volunteer to summarize briefly the story that ends the chapter, about the author's good friends who lost their son just a month after his first birthday. Ask:
How did this couple respond to the tragic circumstances of their baby's death?
Remind the group of the familiar prayer, often called the Serenity Prayer, used by Alcoholics Anonymous and attributed to the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr:
God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, Courage to change the things which should be changed, And the Wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.
Ask them to consider the three posted statements about circumstances ("Like Jeremiah ...") and to think about what they identified concerning their family of origin, personal challenges, or current political or social contexts. Ask them to choose at least one response that represents a particularly thorny challenge and record in their journals responses to the following:
In this situation:
* What is it that I cannot change?
* What is it that I must change?
Invite them to pray in the coming days for the wisdom to more fully distinguish that which can be changed from that which cannot, as well as to discern more completely what God is calling them to do.
More Activities (Optional)
Research "Be Not Afraid" in the Bible
For Matt Miofsky, Jeremiah 1:8 has served as an inspiration and a source of personal strength in times of hardship. This phrase, or similar affirmations such as "fear not," occurs often in Scripture.
Invite participants to search in a concordance for verses that include these words or similar ones. After allowing a few minutes for research, invite participants to choose relevant verses to print on separate sheets of paper. They may want to emphasize the relevant phrases in some way — for example, the words "Don't be afraid" could be printed with larger letters, in a different font, or in a contrasting color.
Have them tape the completed sheets around the room.
Conduct a Job Interview
Quickly formulate a job description for a prophet, as suggested in the activity "Explore Jeremiah's Background," but do it as a group exercise, not as individuals. Have participants identify skills essential to the position, as well as job responsibilities, and list these on a large sheet of paper.
Invite participants to form pairs. Designate one partner in each pair to be the interviewer (God) and the other to be Jeremiah. Allow a moment for participants to review Jeremiah 1:4-10. Then ask each pair to role-play the interview.
Afterward, review the experience by asking each pair to report briefly on their interview. Ask:
How did your interview go? What was Jeremiah's response when he heard what the job of prophet entailed?
If you had been Jeremiah, how do you think you would have responded to God's job offer?
Have you ever sensed God's call to take on a challenging discipleship task? If so, what was your response? Were you fearful and reluctant? If so, why?
We read that the Book of Lamentations, traditionally attributed to Jeremiah, is a book of laments, or poetic expressions of grief and sadness. While many scholars no longer believe that Jeremiah actually wrote the book, it was likely written around the same time as the Book of Jeremiah.
To experience through poetry what disappointment, sadness, and despair must have felt like in Jeremiah's time, ask participants to read chapter 1aloud in round-robin fashion — with each participant reading one verse in turn. Following the reading, sit in silence for a few moments. Then invite participants to call out one-word or one-phrase responses that encapsulate for them how the people living through those times must have felt.
Invite participants to call out responses, popcorn style, to the following:
If we don't learn how to fail, there is a danger that we will ...
When we learn how to fail, we ...
What matters is not that we fail, because everyone fails. What counts is that we ...
Encourage participants to voice any lingering questions and jot these down for further consideration.
Remind the group to read chapter 2 before the next session.
The author lifts up for us what the author of Ecclesiastes has to say about wisdom and the attributes of a person who has insights into the nature of life. Form two groups to read Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 responsively, beginning by reading verse 1 in unison. ("There's a season for everything and a time for every matter under the heavens. ...") Then have one group read the first phrase in each verse ("a time for giving birth") and the other group the second phrase ("and a time for dying").
Offer the following prayer, which the author uses to close the chapter:
Holy God, sometimes in the midst of circumstances, we fail to respond faithfully to the task that's set before us. So God, give us, through the power of your Holy Spirit, discernment, so that we might let go of the things that we can't control, take hold of the things that we can control, and respond faithfully, believing that you are there to deliver us. We pray these things in Christ's name. Amen.
Planning the Session
As a result of conversations and activities connected with this session, group members should begin to:
explore spiritual idolatry in Jeremiah's time and in ours;
explore the image of the potter and the clay in Jeremiah;
examine the idea of God's sovereignty;
reflect on being molded by God into something beautiful.
Then the Lord's word came to me: House of Israel, can't I deal with you like this potter, declares the Lord?
Like clay in the potter's hand, so are you in mine, house of Israel!
But they said, "What's the use! We will follow our own plans and act according to our own willful, evil hearts."
Provide journaling materials for those who did not bring them.
For the activity on the image of the potter and the clay, bring a piece of pottery. Check to see if any participants have experience creating pottery on a wheel. If someone is a potter, ask that person in advance to be prepared to explain how pottery is made. As an alternative, plan to view on YouTube a video segment about pottery making.
Decide if you will do any of the alternative activities. For the activity on reflecting with clay, get some modeling clay. Check with the leaders of children's classes to see if they have any available to borrow.
For the do-over game, you will need index cards and pencils or pens.
Locate either the hymn "Have Thine Own Way, Lord" or "Spirit of the Living God" for the closing activity and arrange for speaking or singing the lyrics. There are a number of versions of each hymn on YouTube.
As participants arrive, welcome them. If someone is present for this session who did not attend the first session, offer a special welcome.
Excerpted from "Fail Leader Guide"
Copyright © 2017 Abingdon Press.
Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
To the Leader,
1. Jeremiah's Story,
2. The Do-Over,
3. In the Pit,
4. Finding Hope,
5. On the Other Side of Exile,