Turning Points Magazine & Devotional

June 2024 Issue

Faith Keepers

From the May 2024 Issue

A First Impression

Online Exclusive: From This Point Forward

A First Impression

The phrase, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression,” was a 1966 advertising slogan for Botany Suits, but it’s become the catchphrase for an entire field of social psychology—the science of first impressions. Psychologists tell us we form our first impressions within milliseconds of seeing someone, and the conclusions we form are hard to reverse.

That’s why it’s vital to make a good first impression, whether you’re on your first date with someone, being interviewed for a job, or running for office. In his book Face Value: The Irresistible Influence of First Impressions, Alexander Todorov describes a Swiss study that asked children to play a computer game about sailing from Troy to Ithaca along the route of Odysseus’ trip. The children were shown pairs of pictures of French politicians who were running for parliament and were asked to choose which person they wanted as captain of the ship. The children’s choices predicted the outcome of the elections by seventy percent.1

The science of first impressions goes back to Solomon Asch, a founding father of modern social psychology. In 1946, he wrote, “We look at a person and immediately a certain impression of his character forms itself in us. A glance, a few spoken words are sufficient to tell us a story about a highly complex matter. We know that such impressions form with remarkable rapidity and with great ease.”2

As followers of Christ, we want to make the right impression on the world and imprint an instant impression for Christ on all we meet. How do we do that? Psychology Today suggested five ways to make a great first impression: (1) Be yourself—but be your best self; (2) get yourself organized and centered before the interaction; (3) pay close attention to your non-verbal communication; (4) your clothes matter; and (5) focus on the other person.3

But there’s more to it than that. Many people try to impress others with their personalities, their money, their clothes, their education, their cars and homes, their success, or their position or status. But we can learn a lot by noticing the first impressions Jesus made on others. It’s interesting to notice how people reacted upon first meeting or seeing or hearing Him. After Matthew recorded the Sermon on the Mount, he said, “And so it was, when Jesus had ended these sayings, that the people were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes” (Matthew 7:28-29).

Luke said, “Then Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and news of Him went out through all the surrounding region. And He taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all” (Luke 4:14-15).

Even His executioner said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54)

Some people reacted negatively to Jesus, but their reactions said more about their own hearts than about His words or deeds. No one who met Him was neutral. And Jesus was always interested in the impression He made on others. “What do you think about the Christ?” He asked in Matthew 22:42.

To define our imprint on the world, we must make positive first impressions so others will quickly see Jesus in us. How? We gain insights into this by noticing what the apostle Paul told his friends in Philippians 4:9: “The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.”

Notice those four words—learned, received, heard, and saw. That was how Paul made a lasting impression on others.

What Others Learn From You—Your Example

It begins with our example. Perhaps you’ve gone into a coffee shop or fast-food restaurant feeling tired and grumpy, but the genuine cheerfulness and warm smile of the clerk behind the counter instantly lifted your spirits. Or maybe you’ve learned a lesson about what to avoid after watching a fellow passenger at the airport lose his temper and tear into an airline employee. You thought to yourself, I hope I never make a fool of myself like that!

We learn from the examples of others, whether the lessons are good or bad, and others learn from watching us. Jesus said, “I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” (John 13:15), and Paul told Timothy, “Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers” (1 Timothy 4:12).

Consider this. Some people will never meet you, shake your hand, or converse with you. But they will see you across the room, in the stadium, on the street, in a public place—and the power of your demeanor and deportment can leave a lasting impression on them.

What Others Receive From You—Your Generosity

Paul also told the Philippians to emulate what they had received from him. They had received his love, his willingness to suffer when he was flogged for bringing the Gospel to their city (see Philippians 1:16), his hard work on their behalf, and his message of Jesus. He had poured himself out on their behalf, and he suggested they do the same for others.

Generosity often involves money and possessions. But we don’t have to be wealthy to be generous, for generosity isn’t primarily a monetary practice but a heart attitude. Years ago, a college student approached Ruth Bell Graham when she was relaxing after a long day of entertaining and ministry. “Mrs. Graham, do you have a minute for me to ask you about my problem?” Instantly Mrs. Graham clicked off the television, turned to the student with a smile, and said, “Certainly.” That student had her full attention, and he never forgot her kindness in giving her time and attention to him.

What Others Hear From You—Your Words

The third way we make a good first impression is by the words we speak. Paul said, “The things which you…heard…in me.” If you’ll think over your life, you’ll probably be able to remember certain specific sentences people have spoken to you through the years. We obviously cannot remember every word we’ve heard during our lifetimes, for we communicate extensively every day. But through the years, certain sentences have pierced our memories and fixed themselves in our minds, and we can still hear them today as if just spoken. Making a written list of them would be a valuable exercise.

Those are the kinds of words we want to speak to others, impressing their hearts with truths to help them. Oh, that the words we speak would make an imprint for God and for good on the lives of others!

What Others See in You—Your Actions

Finally, Paul said, “The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do.” He had made a visual impression on the Philippians, and now he wanted them to do the same for others—through what they did. Our deeds speak more loudly than the clothes we wear, the status we reach, the money we give, or the sermons we preach. Sometimes the simplest acts of kindness—or rudeness—can have a lasting impact.

There’s an interesting story about this in the annals of Christian history. In A.D. 603, national Celtic church leaders on the British Isles didn’t know what to do about the arrival of a new Christian missionary, Augustine of Canterbury. Should they receive him and submit to his authority, or should they remain at arm’s length? A seasoned saint advised them on the matter. “If Augustine is meek and lowly of heart, it shows that he bears the yoke of Christ Himself…. If he rises courteously as you approach, rest assured that he is the servant of Christ and do as he asks. But if he ignores you and does not rise, then…do not comply with his demands.”

When the churchmen visited the missionary, Augustine did not rise to greet them but treated them with aloofness. As a result, they didn’t accept his mission, causing a major rift in seventh-century church relations.

First impressions!

Our first impression should always reflect Christ. We must remind people of Jesus through our example, generosity, words, and actions. That’s the way to leave our imprint on the world as we say: “The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.”

Sources:

1Alexander Todorov, Face Value(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2017), 1-2.

2Ibid., 3.

3Thomas G. Plante, “Five Strategies for a Fabulous First Impression,” Psychology Today, March 26, 2012, www.psychologytoday.com/blog/do-the-right-thing/201203/five-strategies-fabulous-first-impression.

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