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T.D. Jakes' 'Instinct' for Thriving in the 'Jungles of Life'

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Bishop T.D. Jakes is one of the most influential pastors in America. Along with his wife Serita, Jakes founded The Potter's House in 1996; and according to their website, the church and humanitarian organization attracts more than 30,000 members. Named by Time Magazine as America's Best Preacher, the pastor also produces films and writes books that sell millions of copies. His latest, Instinct: The Power to Unleash Your Inborn Drive is in the top 10 on Amazon a week after it was published.

The idea for Instinct came to Jakes while on safari in South Africa watching the animal survive, and he realized that he was also one of the "created beings" who has to survive in the "jungles of life." The book is part autobiographical, part self-help, part faith, and part sociological observation of the world that requires a reliance on instinct to thrive.

I had a chance to sit down and talk to Bishop Jakes in the HuffPost newsroom about his new book.

Paul Brandeis Raushenbush: Instinct is not a term I normally hear among Christians.

Bishop T.D. Jakes: I wanted to write something for the people who are managing the social constructs of church, of politics, of family, you manage all of these different jungles "metaphorically" and still keep your own identity, and that is what it is all about.

I have thought of instinct as very base, animalistic -- you or me, who is going to win?

Like a survival instinct.

Exactly, and I'm wondering how that is in tension with the Gospel meant to perhaps counteract that instinct -- it's not going to be you or me its going to be both.

If you hold it to your definition of instinct, it would not hold up to scripture, but if you define it by mine it is founded in scripture. For example, when Jesus tells the parable about the various servants to which the owner had entrusted talents -- to one he gave two and to one he gave five, and to one he gave one. The Bible says that the owner went on a far journey and when he got back he asked them to give him an account of what they had done. The one who had five got 10, the one who got two got four and the one who got one buried his talent. Well, the household owner never told him to increase it but it was a test to see if he had the instinct to increase.

Or let's look at the 10 lepers. Jesus said to them, go show yourselves to the priest and they went and they were healed as they went, but one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned around and went back to Jesus. He was not commanded to come back, but he instinctively came back to say thank you. And Jesus asked: Where are the nine?

What is the difference between instinct and inspiration?

Inspiration is from an outside source that inspires you internally. You're inspired by something you saw, or something your read, or something that somebody said to you. Instinct has nothing to do with what's outside of you, it has to do with what's happening in you.

You cannot take instinct and separate it from God. Every instinct you have, the creator created you with it. You're a lion, or a lamb or a man. When you got here you didn't invent yourself, so whatever instincts you have come from what David called how fearfully and marvelously we are made.

What there a time when you really used your instinct?

Many times. When I felt like I was finished in West Virginia and that I had accomplished everything I could there and I needed to somewhere and didn't know where -- that is a very vulnerable place. Or the moment I went into full-time ministry, which I didn't want to go into because I liked having outside jobs and still do, but instinctively I felt like I could not leave the church and be away as much as I was away. Or when no publisher would publish Women Thou Art Loosed and I had to self-publish and that was instinct and it sold 7 million copies.

I live in a household of instinctive people. My wife is instinctive. I've seen her do things with the kids that reminds me that she has this maternal instinct to know what to do at what moment. God doesn't give you something that he did not give you the instinct to know how to handle what he gave you.

So, can you put a microscope on instinct and help us to understand what instinct is and how to recognize it?

When I am in the area when I am using my instinct to creatively function I am passionate, I am empowered, I am motivated. Nothing is difficult to do, it is organic it is something that life demands from me that I am able to provide. Juxtapose that with demanding that I do something that is not organically me. It is laborious, difficult. Something that is warehoused in me is easy answer.

If you demand that I be musical and I am musical then it is a joy. But if you demand that I be musical and I am not and I have study, practice, research, rehearse to be what I am not. What I mean by instinct is to go with what you have been created to do and what is natural for you.

Is there anything that your instinct is telling you to do next?

I think that misses the point because that is about intuition -- when you start talking about telling me what to do next. Instinct is not a command it is more of a positioning, it's not something that has been said to you.

What else should we understand about the book?

I use the metaphor to describe various social constructs as jungles. I talk about being an immigrant, coming into a culture of an organization like this one, and having to fit into the jungle of this environment, and your ability to adapt into that environment will determine how effective you are in that world. Then you come out of that jungle, and say you go into another jungle -- maybe you're a Christian and you go to church -- that is a whole different social construct. Most of us have several jungles to manage, and I talk about how to juggle the jungles, and not to think that this is that -- because one of the prevalent problems that I see with people who move from jungle to jungle is that sometimes they don't change languages when they change jungles.

For example, there are certain things that you can say to an all-black audience that they immediately understand and process correctly. You take that same language, and go into another setting, and it is deemed inappropriate and insulting. Okay? What works in this construct, may not work in that construct and yet most of us have to juggle many different jungles.

And that's where the instinct comes in -- understanding what's around you -- people, places, and things.

Yes, yes, yes! If you are explorative of life at all, you will soon bump into more than one jungle. I wrote the book because I've lived in several different jungles and I figure other people do too- and manage those jungles, and the language and what it means. There are certain things that I can do in an interview that mean certain things to your audience, that if I were at TBN (Trinity Broadcasting Network) it would mean something different, than if I speak to JET, it's going to mean something different, and language fits the jungle or social construct in which you're talking. Does that make sense?

It totally makes sense, we all do that. And I think what's interesting about this is that it's bringing it into focus. And is it a muscle that we can increase?

Here's the thing that I think is important. It's the sensitivity that needs to be underlined. Because one of the things that causes you to lose the opportunity to influence the other jungles, is that you run right into it, thinking that it's all the same thing when it absolutely is not all the same thing.

When you are an immigrant, coming into a corporation or a different social construct, my book talks about just watching and sensing before you speak, because there are always spoken and unspoken rules. If I come to work here, I'm going to get a manual, I'm going to get some materials. It's going to tell me some things, but it's not going to tell me what I need to know to survive in this atmosphere -- I'm going to have to sniff that out. I'm going to have to watch how things are done, and how you get your programs promoted, and who's the person in charge, and how you fill out requisitions, and who really gets things done and it's not all in the manual. The book talks about that as well, and developing the sensitivity, because many people, meaning well, come into a different social construct with the wrong language, and never accomplish what they were trying to get done. That might be something interesting.

It's something we carry with us.

Yeah.

And we can really take it anywhere.

Yes, and some people do it better than others, and your ability to be instinctive will determine how influential you can be. Because you cannot influence me if you unknowingly insult me. So that is an instinct, my friend, to know when to be still, to know when to be humble, to know when to not be presumptuous -- that this is not that.

It's so interesting to me -- that when you're saying that -- it just reminds me of being places. And you can watch people run straight into a bad situation -- you just watch it happen. Because they're not being aware of where their surroundings are.

Absolutely.

And you're just watching and saying, "Okay, I wouldn't be doing that if I were you..." You know (laughs)!

Or haven't you seen it in your own organization when somebody who has the academics, they have the intellect, they have the degrees, but they don't have the sensitivity to understand the environment? They end up losing a great opportunity because they don't understand, they don't respect the fact that this jungle has its own rules, its own predators, its own language, and its own culture.

Well, I think this is going to help a lot of people. So congratulations!

Thank you! I enjoyed this.