An Interview with author Margaret Feinberg about her book, The Sacred Echo.

Margaret, what’s the difference between an echo and a whisper?
You know, Jim, it’s interesting you ask that because the very first book that I ever wrote was called God Whispers, and it was based on that passage in 1 Kings 19 with Elisha on the mountainside and the Scripture just beautifully says that as God was coming near to speak to Elisha that He was not in the fire, the wind, or the earthquake but that he was in that gentle whisper. That very first book was about hearing the whispers of God — those times when God draws near in those unexpected ways. I have been finding over the last eight years, since I’ve read that book is that when God speaks so often it’s not just as a whisper, but it’s an echo. There’s something repetitive and persistent about the nature in which God speaks.

Scripture says that God was not in the earthquake, the wind or the fire, I have to ask, But who was?

Just as God used the earthquake, the wind and the fire to get Elisha’s attention, he’s often using the repetitive nature of events in our own lives to get our attention.

The sacred echo is the persistent voice of God. It’s that moment when we wake in the morning, and maybe we’re spending time in Scripture, and a certain passage or a certain verse just pops off the page. Then we go to church on Sunday and — boom — here is a pastor or preacher teaching on the exact same passage. Then we have a conversation with a friend later up in the week, and maybe that topic comes up again. Then we flip open the page on our Christian calendar or day planner and — boom — there is the passage again. It’s the idea that God is so persistent in the way that he speaks, and at those times when we experience those reoccurring themes, we start to ask the question, Maybe, just maybe, God is speaking. What is He trying to say?

Margaret, what kinds of echoes are you hearing these days?
One of the things that I feel the Lord has been echoing into my heart is the word “gentle” — “just gentle, Margaret, gentle.” It was interesting because as I was aware of that theme of gentle, I’d see it in a book or a magazine that I was reading and that word would just pop off the page, or it would come up in a conversation or someone would just randomly, I appreciate your gentleness.

It forced me to go back into Scripture — which I think is the ultimate source for when we think we’re hearing from God — and I began to do a word study on the word “gentle”. One of the passages that really caught my attention was when Jesus was riding in on a donkey into Jerusalem before his death and resurrection. Jesus is described as gentle. I don’t think that word was by chance, or it was misplaced or it was an extra adjective that the writers had thrown in. It was a meaningful word to describe the attitude and the posture with which Jesus entered into his ultimate sacrifice and service for humanity.

I thought in my own life, God is inviting me to that spirit of gentleness that reflects Jesus, as I serve and as I live every day.

How does a person tune in to these echoes? I have to believe there are people saying, I don’t hear a thing. What’s with this echo business?
First of all, I think it’s important to have a humble heart and to ask God in prayer, God, if you are really out there and you are really trying to get my attention, please speak to me and give me eyes to see the ways you’re speaking and ears to hear and a heart that is sensitive to those moments.

Secondly, it’s no mistake the Bible is called “God’s Word.” It’s that book that we are invited to dialogue with God in and through. I think we’ll never hear God’s voice as clearly, concisely or as precisely as when we spend time in Scripture.

My encouragement is to possibly consider maybe getting a different translation of the Bible, one that’s easier for you to read. If you’re not a book person, I would encourage you to consider buying an audio Bible. Scripture is something that you can listen to while you’re driving in your commute, or before you go to bed at night. I think through intentionality of spending time in God’s Word, we’re going to find that there are certain stories that you just can’t shake out of your mind. There are certain passages, certain terms and phrases within God’s Word that are going to follow you. As they follow you, you’re going to find them popping up again and again and at those moments taking time to ask and say, God, is this from you? What are you trying to say to me ?

How does a person discern God’s voice in this busy world with all these distractions and static?
Great question. Again, primarily I think it is the Word. Scripture is the foundation and the filter for all that we hear from God. If something that we hear does not line up with Scripture, I think we should toss it out the window. With that said, there are certain things that we may feel a little nudging from God, and it may be not something that was clearly spelled out in Scripture. We may wonder, Well, that doesn’t go against God’s Word, but how do I know if that is from God?

At that point there are some pretty great questions that you can ask.

Number one: Does what I heard leave me with a sense of peace?

Jesus described himself as the Prince of Peace. The thing that God gives to us so often when he speaks is that sense of shalom, a sense of deep centered peace so that we know that it is from him. It’s a kind of peace that the world cannot provide or try to compete with.

A second question is: Is what I heard blanketed in love?

I think that’s really important because God will never ask us to do anything with a harmful or mean spirit, or with criticalness. God is not in the business of tearing down people. I believe He’s in the business of redeeming and restoring mankind.

A third question to ask is: Does what I heard line up with the wise counsel in my life?

All of us need people who are older and wiser to provide guidance to speak up, to help figure out these things that we’re hearing.

My encouragement is that if you don’t already, find these people and make them a part of your life. Then, when you feel you’re hearing from God, let them know. Does this sound right? Is this consistent with the vision of where God has been leading me, and what He’s done in the past? I think by asking those questions you can discern whether what you’re hearing is from God or not.

Why do you think so many young couples struggle to connect with God?

I think there are a couple reasons. I know for myself, when I was thinking about getting married, I had a mindset that praying, reading the bible, and talking about different Christian issues would just come naturally. I thought it would be a natural part of life. I didn’t realize that I had to be so intentional about carving out personal time with God one-on-one. And I also needed to be intentional about making spiritual time with my spouse. So it does require effort and energy.

Secondly, when you’re newly married, it’s amazing being in love. Waking up on a Saturday morning I just want to snuggle in bed, under the down comforter next to my cute little husband. Getting up and reading the bible is more like a discipline or work. There is so much joy and excitement those first few years that you need to discipline yourself and be intentional about spiritual things. You need to say, I really love spending time with my husband, but I love him enough — and I love God enough — that I will carve out time with God one-on-one.

We tell engaged couples that life as they know it will change drastically — even though you’ve done the pre-marriage prep, you have reasonable expectations, you’re in love, etc., etc. — after you walk down that aisle, your lives will change. Does that sound familiar?

Absolutely. That resonates completely. I compare marriage to learning to drive a car. Somebody can give you a manual, they can tell you all about it, you can picture yourself in the front seat doing 150 miles-per-hour down an incredible speedway… But until you get behind the wheel yourself, crank over the engine, learn how to shift gears, it’s all imaginary. It’s not until you’re actually doing it that you learn the reality of it.

There is a bit of a surprise or an awakening that comes in marriage once you’re actually married. You may have pictured it to be one way, but in reality it’s a completely different way. Maybe it’s watching a romantic movie and thinking you’ll just naturally wake up in the morning and kiss. The reality is you both probably have morning breath. (laughs)

Margaret, I forget. Were you and Leif married in Alaska or were you married here in the states?


Oh, that was a good one. (laughs)

We were married in my hometown, Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

Tell me about your marriage preparation. What did that look like?

Oh my goodness. Leif and I had seen people with super long engagements and we decided that probably was not for us. We had talked about engagement probably six months into dating; we got engaged in July and we were married in September. So we did a very simple wedding. We didn’t want to prolong an engagement, and honestly be tempted by sex. So by keeping it short and sweet, that wasn’t an issue for us.

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In terms of preparation, we did six weeks of mentoring sessions with our pastor. We invested a lot of time communicating about hopes & dreams, kids, money, and all those things we knew would be important.

What do you wish someone had told you before you got married?

Oh, a lot of things. One issue I talk about in Just Married that nobody had ever told me about is the sense of disconnect my husband and I get when we’re apart. Because of the nature of our jobs sometimes we’re away a week or longer and when we’re apart each of us has a tendency to fall back into our single ways. I get used to doing things my way, having my perspective, my space, and my time. And all of a sudden the spouse comes back and there’s a period that we call re-entry, which usually lasts 24-72 hours, where we have to get used to each other again. We’ve come to a point where we know it will be a little bumpy when we get back together, but we know that bumpiness isn’t a reason to question our marriage. It’s normal and it’s okay. And sure enough in 24-72 hours we’re back on the same wavelength, back in the same groove and our marriage is vibrant again.

Margaret, I know you and Leif waited for sex. Looking back now, what was the payoff? Any regrets?

I wasn’t married until 29; he wasn’t married until he was 27. Depending on your age and perspective in life, that’s a really long time. (laughs) That said, we are so glad we waited. I can see in God’s design why waiting until marriage for sex is the best possible way to live: to share yourself whole heartedly with someone, no not have flashbacks of previous partners and experiences, to have a clean mind at the start that allows you to develop memories with each other. It’s amazing.

There is a hardship that comes with waiting. Sex is something new and we often have an unrealistic picture of what to expect. The sex I thought I’d have with my husband the first week of marriage, it took us six months to get there. And as we approach our second wedding anniversary, the sex keeps getting better. It’s something that takes time. And you need to recognize it’s a learning experience.

What advice would you give to a couple thinking about marriage?

First of all, spend time in pre-marital counseling. It’s not something to check off on your to-do list. This is an incredible opportunity to get to know the person you’ll spend the rest of your life with. If you can work through issues now, while you can go back to your separate homes — do it. The more issues you can talk about and resolve now before you say “I Do”, the better.

Before I was married I heard stories of hardship and difficulty, and for some reason I didn’t hear the message of how great marriage can be. Marriage can be an unbelievable blessing; it can be exciting and fun. Go in to marriage expecting to enjoy it, knowing of course it’s work, compromise and sacrifice — marriage is a whole lot of fun.
An Interview with author Margaret Feinberg about her book, The Sacred Echo.

Margaret, you described yourself as “yo-yo prayer.” What does that mean?

You know the book The Sacred Echo, in addition to being about how to hear from God, is really a book about prayer.

Prayer is one part speaking, one part listening, and one part waiting. So often I wrestle with those and I wrestle in the persistence of it. The term “yo-yo dieting” is what we talk about we’re on a diet. We’re off the diet. We’re on the diet. We’re off the diet.

On my spiritual journey there are times when I wrestle and struggle with prayer. I prayed this morning. Oops, I forgot to pray this morning. I’m praying this morning. Oh, I forgot. Or, I remembered throughout the day. I didn’t pray at all.

Just as God used the earthquake, the wind and the fire to get Elisha’s attention, he’s often using the repetitive nature of events in our own lives to get our attention.

I find myself in this on-again, off-again prayer life and hungering and wanting some consistency. For me, as I describe this, one of the things that’s helped me in this journey is in the back of my Bible. I created a prayer list on one of the extra sheets tucked into the back — those plain white ones. I started writing down my prayer list and now when I get done reading Scripture each day, I can flip to the back and right there in a very practical way are things I pray for. Sometimes I breeze through that list and other times, as I go through it, I find myself slowing down and spending extended time praying for different people and different situations.

That one page has helped me become less of a yo-yo prayer and more consistent.

I hear Christians saying, I didn’t have a quality quiet time; I didn’t have a quiet time; It’s hard to do a quiet time. What would you say about consistency? And is there a right or wrong way to do that?

God wires us all differently.

One of the things I encourage people to do is, if they find something that works, by all means do it and keep on doing it.

Sometimes people develop new programs or new techniques or different things that work. For most of us, we need to go back to that thing that works. Some people are going to connect with God best in the morning, others throughout the day, others in the evening.

Some are going to find they need extended times of prayer on weekends or during the week. Others will prefer spending time in Scripture — whether it’s the audio Bible or the printed Word. I think it’s figuring out individually what works for you and being disciplined in that.

I’m wondering if this concept of echoes has had any application in your marriage…

It’s been interesting. When Leif and I were first married, we really struggled to continue spirituality. I remember during our first year of marriage we bought the popular Oswald Chambers My Utmost for His Highest and, boy, we started January 1st and we were so committed to reading that throughout the year.

I think we lost the book by January 12th. As much as we wanted to do that and read that together, it just didn’t connect.

One of the things Leif brought into our marriage is something that his own father had done for him as a little child. Every night before bed his father would come into his room and he would pray a prayer over him — it’s out of Numbers — saying, May the Lord bless you and keep you. May He make his face shine upon you and be gracious unto you. May He lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.

From the very beginning of our marriage, this has been something that Leif and I do for each other every single night and sometimes honestly it’s hard to do. If we had conflict during the day, or we’ve been in a huge disagreement or kind of mad, to turn toward your spouse and have to face them and pray over them; there is something about that. The things we might have gone to sleep with, they have to be faced. It has been so good for us.

As we form that basis of just one simple but steady prayer in our own marriage, we’ve found that it’s become a foundation for prayer throughout the day.

There are times throughout the day that we say, Hey, can we pray about this? Hey, you want to pray now? You want to pray about the situation? It becomes more natural and almost more organic, and it also seems more authentic.

For Leif and I, we have to be intentional about prayer, and yet at the same time, allow the freedom of spontaneous expression when it feels like it’s something that we should do.

One of the most exciting things about prayer is that that when God speaks so persistently to us, it’s not necessarily for information — he wants transformation. He wants the reality of who He is alive in our hearts, minds and spirits. It should shape our attitudes, actions and behavior so at the end of the day we look a little more like Jesus.

In our own marriage relationship, as Leif and I have sought to hear from God, we’ve kept our ears and our eyes open together. As we begin to hear the sacred echoes, we find that God is not just leading and directing us, but He is transforming us, both as individuals and as a couple, to be more like Jesus. It’s one of the most exciting adventures.

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