(Romans 11:18 The Message)
The entire chapter from which this verse is taken is about Israel - the chosen of God - and the "branches" that were grafted in. Let me explain before I go on. Israel was chosen to be the people of God - redeemed from a life of slavery and misery. Then they chose their own way. As Paul puts it: Well, when Israel tried to be right with God on her own, pursuing her own self-interest, she didn't succeed. The chosen ones of God were those who let God pursue his interest in them, and as a result received his stamp of legitimacy. The "self-interest Israel" became thick-skinned toward God. (Romans 11:7 The Message) Notice that I underlined a section of this passage. Paul really sets out two diametrically opposed conditions of the heart - those that pursue God because of their own "self-interest" and those that let God pursue his interest in them.
It was the pursuit of God in order to fulfill their own self-interest that caused Israel to reject their Messiah when he came (Jesus). In turn, God made a way for the "outsiders" to the Jewish faith to be "grafted in". That is what Paul has spent some time developing in this chapter - the non-Jew was pursued by God and grafted into the "family tree", so to speak. Their rejection of the Messiah opened the door for those of us of that now are welcomed into the family of Christ. There are a couple of things we need to see in this chapter that bear us spending some time considering.
First, God pursues us - we don't pursue him. Whenever we get that backwards, we end up being unsuccessful in our pursuit! It says that when we think we can pursue God on our terms, we actually get a little "thick-skinned" toward God. We lose our sensitivity to the things of God's Spirit. This means that we are so caught up in the way we "think" we should act, or dare I say perform, before God that we miss out on just being ourselves. God doesn't pursue us because of anyway we "perform", but because he loves us. God pursues "his interest" in us - in other words, he has invested in us and he is pursuing what he has an interest in!
Second, thick-skinned people are really 'dull' in their perception of God's presence. The people of Israel actually did not realize that the presence of God had left them - they were so caught up in their tendencies to do things on their own, looking to other gods, and being swayed by the religions of the day that they missed seeing God's presence was no longer there in their "worship". Whenever we substitute anything for the presence of God in our lives, we run the same risk - becoming so thick-skinned that we don't even realize that the presence of God is gone!
Last, but certainly not least, we have a tendency to get things backwards when we get out of the presence of God. Our passage puts it this way: We think we feed the root and forget that the root actually feeds us! I planted six plants in my yard about six weeks ago. Three on the right side of the yard and three on the left. The ones on the right are thriving, the ones on the left are withering. At first, I thought it was a watering issue, but a quick check of the sprinkler system did not confirm that suspicion. There was adequate water. Then I wondered if it was too much sun on the left side of the yard compared to the right side, but I could not really see a difference there either.
In the end, here is what I discovered. There are thousands of ants doing a number on the roots of those on the left side of the yard! The plants don't have a chance to thrive because the ants are attacking the roots! I have attempted to kill them, but they seem to be pretty impervious to the chemicals I have used and the hills just seem to flourish. In the meantime, my little bushes are affected by what is happening to their roots. The roots feed the plant, not the other way around! Nothing kills the plant quicker than the roots being cut off from their source!
We should never forget that in God's pursuit of his interest in us, he ensures that the roots are planted in places where they will flourish. He tends our lives with great care - when he is allowed to do the tending, that is! He places us where we will grow - take root. Then, he encompasses our roots with the spiritual nutrients that will bring the growth into our lives. We don't feed the root - the root feeds us. Are you allowing God to place your roots in rich soil, or are you trying to tell God where you should be planted? I think it is best to allow God to pursue us - we probably don't know the best soil to plant those roots in on our own!