How do you feel when a stranger or someone that you don’t know very well invades your personal space and stands too close to you? Does it make you feel very uncomfortable, even to the point that makes you take a step back to maintain a comfortable distance?
“He that wins souls is wise” Proverbs 11:30
“Behave wisely in relation to the outside world, buying up your opportunities” Colossians 4: 5 Weymouth New Testament
I have seen this happen in churches many times over the years. People are so happy to see a new person arrive that they sometimes forget about normal social boundaries. They become personal space invaders without realising what they are doing.
I have even witnessed a first-time church visitor being greeted with a full-on frontal body hug accompanied by a sloppy kiss on the cheek. The person looked horrified and they never returned.
It is the Holy Spirit that convicts hearts and His word never returns to Him void. Being aware of the way you interact with a person can be the open door to build a bridge so that you can witness for Christ. It could give you the opportunity to share your faith. Sharing your testimony of salvation or the Gospel is a powerful way to be used by the Lord.
An example of space invading would be travelling on a busy train. The carriage you are on is pretty full with a couple of empty seats left. At the next stop, a few more travellers get on board and move towards the area where you are seated because there is a space next to you. At this point, you deliberately fail to make eye contact with the person coming nearer to you and you may even make your body spread out and carefully place your newspaper on the empty seat while thinking, “Oh please don’t sit next to me”. It is also very likely that you have experienced similar feelings when you have been in a busy cinema.
“Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity” Colossians 4: 5 New American Standard 1977
The truth is that most people are like this. When strangers keep about four feet away from us, we subconsciously feel comfortable and safe. Scientists and psychologists believe that these feelings stem from the days of evolution. I firmly believe that these natural instincts are the design of God.
Paul was absolutely right when he wrote about behaving wisely. We do need to be careful about the way that we act toward outsiders or unsaved. Importantly with regards to the way that we live our lives. For instance, do we have a good testimony that gives us credibility when we witness to those people who know us? See my
See my blog “Are you a credible witness”? http://lifelettercafe.com/2016/02/are-you-a-credible-witness/
I believe another view of interpreting the scripture is the way that we behave in conversation with people. Especially those that may be new to us. In my communication classes, I often ask my students if they are aware of how their behaviour and body language effects people around them.
From experience, I have discovered that in many cases that people are completely unaware of how people read and interpret the meaning of what we say through our non-verbal communication. Added to that, people make very quick judgements about us, predominantly about our appearance and the way that we act.
If when witnessing on the streets or an outreach for example, a Christian immediately moved too close to the person they were trying to share the Gospel with. It would be made more difficult because the person goes immediately go into a defensive mode.
You may not do this, but it is worth checking.
Some years ago I went on a door to door evangelism evening with members of my local church. I was teamed up with a man that was quite a few years older than me. We knocked on our first door which was answered by an elderly lady. My colleague didn’t move away from the door at all after he had finished knocking, staying in the same place. The lady was surprised to find my smiling friend standing so close to the door, which made her take two steps back. She held the door handle and arm’s length so that she was about 5 feet away from us. You will not be surprised to learn that we didn’t spend very long with her.
It is really critical to understand the use of proxemics or proximity as it is known in communication psychology. Being aware of how this can have a dramatic effect on the response or reaction of the person we are in conversation with will make us more effective.
In today’s multicultural society we need to realise that this can change with regards to differing ethnic groups. In Western society, there are four zones or distances that people use below conscious levels to determine how comfortable they feel in the presence of people. These are as follows:
The public zone: This area starts at about 10 feet plus. It is very often the distance that teachers and lecturers and even preachers use to get their message across. Because people are further away, the speaker will have to exaggerate their body language movements in order to communicate more effectively.
The social or acquaintances zone: if in general terms this tends to be at around four feet. At this distance, people will sometimes introduce themselves to strangers by shaking their hands and then immediately move back out to the zone where they feel more comfortable. It also means that during conversation neither party needs to shout or raise their voice.
The personal zone: This starts at the area of approximately 1½ to 4 feet and is an area where you experience a degree of feeling comfortable. It is believed to be the most appropriate for when people are in conversation. In this zone, it is much easier to be able to see the other person’s eye movements and expressions, as well as their overall body language.
The friendship or intimate zone: This area, under 1 ½ feet is only for people that you close to, such as family, courting couples or close friends. Immediately entering the space of a person that you do not have a close relationship with can be extremely disturbing.
Having conversations in the personal zone, without the person moving away from you is a very good sign that they feel comfortable with you. This can lead on to them allowing you to move in closer and pray for them.
Be aware of proximity.