I first wrote this post several years ago in snowy, rainy, Fargo, North Dakota, on Road Trip 13. As a follow-up to yesterday’s note from Psalm 127, I’m hopeful you find it useful as you begin another year.

God rocked me – once again – with Psalm 127 this week, but this time in regards to college ministry specifically.

Unless the LORD builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep. (v. 1-2 ESV)

I realized that a huge portion of our time as college ministers is spent on the two tasks from verse 1: building and guarding.

We’re building our ministries as a whole, we’re building individual activities and projects, we’re building our members as a group, and we’re building individual students.

We’re guarding, too – guarding students from spiritual failure, guarding from unhealthy groups and people, guarding from problematic campus forces, and even guarding from ministry members or our own overseers who might misunderstand (and interfere with) what’s being accomplished.

So if that’s true, then Psalm 127 intersects with most of what we college ministers do on a daily and yearly basis. And I’d argue that the passage actually reveals TWO truths which sound the same but prove powerful in their slight differences:

  1. We desperately need God to work
  2. We don’t desperately need our work

On the one hand, these verses shout our desperate need for God Himself to build and to guard.

If He doesn’t, then our efforts at building and guarding – again, a huge portion of our ministry work – are in vain. If He doesn’t act, if He doesn’t “show up,” if He’s not architecting and watchman-ing, then we college ministers are better off going into Sales or taking a nap.

But on the other hand, this passage declares that we don’t desperately need us.

This truth means, despite the message in fuzzy-Christianity, that I’m not actually supposed to “work like it all depends on me.” It’s easy to read verse 1 and miss this side of the coin, but look closely: we are not exactly “co-builders” or “co-watchmen” in this passage. We’re Assistant Builders and Assistant Watchmen (build-stewards and watch-stewards?), at best. Still a duty – but vanity, vanity if He’s not the ultimate Builder or the ultimate Guard.

And that’s why verse 2 connects here, because it suggests that not only is work-without-God-working an empty proposition, so is overwork. Yes, we do work – verse 1 makes that clear. But we aren’t allowed to work like it’s up to us – we shouldn’t work “that way.” So though we work… we rest, we hope, we trust, we wait, and we’re open to the “adventures” that may come.

It’s the latter truth God had to remind me of this week, but both of ’em together can make a huge difference in how we carry out our task, as college ministers, of building and guarding.