Margaret Feinberg didn't set out to become a Christian communicator. At age 18 she wanted to go to Georgetown University and study pre-law and public relations, but she didn't get in. Instead she attended Wake Forest University in North Carolina, the first of many God-driven course corrections in Margaret's life.
Margaret embarked on a journey that led her to graduate with a religion major, try missionary work, discover a gift for writing, and marry Leif, her husband of six years. Today, she's the author of more than a dozen books, including The Sacred Echo and Scouting the Divine (to be released in October), a popular speaker at conferences such as Catalyst, and an "emerging voice" that many believe will help lead the church in the next decade.
A foundation of that leadership is Margaret's deep desire to know God, be attentive to his direction in her life, and to help others fall in love with God and his Word. Recently TCW chatted with Margaret about her faith journey, hearing God's voice, and following it.
You went through a season in college that you describe tongue-in-cheek as "partying like a rock star. " What made you turn your life around?
After my freshman year, I went to a Christian conference and had an encounter with God that changed everything. God kept drawing me back to Isaiah 43:1: "I have called you by name; you are mine" (NLT). I felt it wasn't just Isaiah God was speaking to; he was speaking to me, saying, "You're mine. I love you. You're precious in my sight. "
How did that knowledge affect you?
I realized how much God was pursuing a relationship with me, and I just couldn't resist. And after I graduated from college I took a missions trip to Honduras.
So God was calling you to be a missionary?
I wasn't sure if that was God's calling, but since so many people served God in that way, I thought I'd try.
The first week was amazing, and I thought, Maybe I should stay. Maybe this is what God has for me. Then everything began to unravel. I got sick. My Spanish was terrible. And on one of my trips to serve, I was robbed; literally everything was taken.
I know. But I kept telling myself,This is a Third World country. It's supposed to be difficult. But then I talked to some long-time missionaries who listened to my story. I asked them, "Is this normal?" They said "no" and advised me to go home. That's when I did what most college grads do when they have no idea what they want to do with their life—I moved back in with Mom and Dad.
Looking back now, do you feel there were ways God was telling you not to go?
Honestly, I don't think he was telling me to go or not to go. I learned a lot about myself on the trip—including the fact that I wasn't meant to be a missionary!I've heard many people say, "The last thing I ever wanted to do was live in the desert or go overseas, and that's where God sent me. But now I love it. " Unfortunately, sometimes there's a mentality among Christians that says: Don't say you could never do that because God will call you to it.
That's true. I've heard a lot of people say that.
I don't think that's God's M. O. It's not a reflection of God's character. Yes, some people are called to difficult things. And most who are truly called and faithful come to a place where they can honestly say, "I fell in love with it. " But I think God gives us strengths and passions and spiritual gifts he wants us to use. I'm a communicator. Bottom line, whether I'm sending emails to friends, updating my status on Facebook, talking to a large group of people, or writing a book, I'm using that God-given gift of communication and hopefully honoring God through it.
In your books you talk about hearing God's voice. That's difficult for some people. How have you learned to hear him?
It's something I've wrestled with since I was a girl. People talk about a relationship with Jesus, and that implies communication: talking and listening. But what does that mean? How do I live that out? I studied the Scriptures and asked people: "How do you hear from God?" And one of the things I heard over and over is that many experience God's voice as a thought in your mind that's a little brighter than most.
How can we be certain we're really hearing God's voice—or for that matter, believe someone who claims, "God told me this"?
As far as people who claim, "God told me such-and-such" without humility and an ear for correction, they scare me. Scripture should be the foundation and filter for anything God says. If it doesn't line up with God's Word, chuck it. I also think we should look for a sense of peace. In Philippians 4:7 Paul wrote that God's peace will guard our hearts and minds. We also need to ask whether what we heard was blanketed in love. A bitter, cutting voice is not from God. And we also need to keep our ears, eyes, and hearts open to the way God may be diligently communicating to us.
You call that a sacred echo, right?
Yes. Sacred echoes are the persistent voice of God in our lives. It's the moment when we're reading the Bible and it comes alive. We try to close the book and walk away, but the words of Scripture are alive in our hearts and minds. Then we go to church and the pastor is teaching on that same story or passage. Later that week we go to lunch with friends and that same topic pops up in the conversation. Finally, we realize that maybe God is at work, trying to get our attention.
What's a sacred echo in your life?
I attended a small Bible college for a year where everybody seemed to have incredible callings—becoming head pastors and starting international ministries. They'd ask, "What are you going to do?" I had no idea. I started to get down on myself and pray, Lord, what is it I should be doing? One day I read John 21 where Jesus told Peter, "Here's what's going to happen to you; you're not going to like it. " And Peter said, "What about John?" Jesus said, "Whatever happens to him doesn't matter. You follow me. " And I thought, I get it, Lord. Whatever calling someone else may have, my calling is to press my nose to your shoulder blades and follow you.
I'm guessing that didn't last.
A few weeks later I was stressed out again, thinking, Everybody has these great purposes, and I don't. One night I went running with friends at a local track. One friend began sprinting around the track. Another began running with me, but found my pace too slow. As I circled the track, I was praying,God, what do you have for me? What's the plan? You've given everybody else these incredible things, and I don't even know why I'm here.
I heard him whisper,Look up. The sprinter was already headed back to his car. My other friend was crashed on the sidelines. I felt the Lord echo the words of John 21,You follow me. He gently reminded me that he can do great things through those who are slow and steady.
God is persistent and faithful. Even to this day I still get distracted and think,What about him? What about her? God's response is scriptural and steady,You follow me. That's been a sacred echo in my life.
Dawn Zemke is a writer and former associate editor forToday's Christian Woman, Today's Christian, andMarriage Partnership magazines.
Copyright © 2009 by the author or Christianity Today/Today's Christian Woman magazine.
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