A colleague at a former office once shared her frustrations over a lack of funding for her projects. Although she was a manager, she’d exhausted all of her options for financial support. Only an executive-level exception to the rules would free up the money she needed.
“But,” she concluded with a weary laugh, “that’s above my pay grade.”
Since we worked at a large, bureaucratic institution (where there was, quite literally, a “committee on committees”), my colleague was right. Our job positions, from entry level to senior staff, were rigidly classified, as were our salaries. Working at the firm was akin to working for the federal government, and we were each keenly aware of our own pay grades and their restrictions.
Unfortunately, many of us have this same mindset in our spiritual lives. We limit ourselves to timid, anemic prayers because we’re afraid to “ask big,” fearing that God will scorn petitions that seem beyond our station in both the earthly and heavenly realms.
World peace? We’re not elected officials, and we’re certainly not Mother Teresa or St. Francis of Assisi, so let’s aim instead for something more modest, like a family dinner without a dust-up.
Physical healing? Maybe for a really holy person, but not for someone with our faults.
Restored marriages? Our spouses have been this way for years, and so have we, for that matter. Can the Lord really change them — and us?
Sometimes we think we’re exercising the virtue of humility by not putting too much on God’s plate, as if the Lord of the universe might snap at receiving yet another request, and start tossing around a few lighting bolts in frustration.
When Jesus taught us to ask the Father for our daily bread, he wasn’t talking about begging for a few crumbs. The Lord is no miser; rather, he gives in abundance, “good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing” (Lk 6:38). At his table, our cup “overflows” (Ps 23:5).
That doesn’t mean we’re all going to win the next Powerball drawing, or that we won’t experience loss or suffering after we’ve prayed. From an eternal perspective, God’s provision is more complete than we can comprehend. Even and especially amid sin and heartache, the Lord “sets a table” before us, right “in front of our enemies” (Ps 23:5).
If anything, prayers that underestimate God’s radical love and generosity — prayers that are vague, half-hearted, or fearful — might well produce an eyeroll from the almighty: “Which one of you would hand his son a stone when he asks for a loaf of bread, or a snake when he asks for a fish? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him” (Mt 7:9-11).
Because we have in Jesus a high priest who can “sympathize with our weaknesses” (Heb 4:15), we can “confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help” (Heb 4:16).
St. Paul knew how to do just that. He was well aware of being in what you could call a pretty low pay grade, admitting that he “was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and an arrogant man” (1 Tim 1:13).
Yet because he grasped in the depths of his soul that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim 1:15), St. Paul didn’t let his apparent pay grade become his “pray grade.”
Quite the opposite, and in fact, the Apostle saw his low rank as a promotion: “For when I am powerless, it is then that I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10). He could therefore exhort us to implore a Lord “who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine” (Eph 3:20).
Unlike the corporate world, heaven doesn’t have a human resources department, job classifications, or salary caps. Nothing in our lives is beyond the loving care of our God, who sees our every need and longing — from the least detail to the greatest burden — as well within our pray grade.
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