The Lord Knows the Lay of the Land: Learning from Olive Trees and Poor Ground

Poor ground

“Wherefore, I the Lord knowing the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth” (Doctrine and Covenants 1:17) pronounced the Lord Jesus Christ as a preface to the Doctrine and Covenants and the great latter-day work of the gathering of Israel. With faith that the Saviour “knoweth all things which are to come” (Words of Mormon 1:7), we can trust that the Lord was aware beforehand of the current COVID-19 pandemic, its impact on us as a nation, and on us personally.

Sarah Mosaico

As the pandemic affects the operations of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we may wonder: How can the work of the Lord be moved forward when missionaries and members are needing to stay in their homes? Or as many missionaries are returning home? Or with ward sacrament meetings not being held? Or as temple work is being limited? We may feel worried or saddened by these events.


Instead of accelerating or hastening the Lord’s work, it may appear at first that we are witnessing the work being slowed or stalled. The Lord has promised, “The works, and the designs, and the purposes of God cannot be frustrated” (Doctrine and Covenants 3:1).

Comfort and Guidance from the Allegory of the Olive Tree

For most, the allegory of the olive tree found in Jacob 5 may not be the first study topic to come to mind when facing adversity. This story of a lovingly nourished vineyard can offer spiritual nourishment to us as we face faith-testing challenges. Zenos’ allegory of the olive trees can cultivate within us a more faith-filled perception of the trials of our day.


As a result of his limited vision, the servant in this story asks the Lord of the vineyard “How camest thou hither to plant…in the poorest spot in all the land of the vineyard?” (Jacob 5:21). To put his response in other words: “Lord, do you know what you’re doing?” Had the Lord truly considered the implications? Had the Lord realized that His tender branch might not do well in such conditions?

The Lord of the vineyard replies: “Counsel me not” (Jacob 5:22). We may imagine to ourselves this response to be kindly, albeit direct. Or, we may imagine the Lord of the vineyard’s response justifiably stern and reproving. The servant questioning his Lord’s work seems, at the least laughable, at worst insubordinate. Yet do we ourselves sometimes wonder if the Lord of our vineyard knows the difficulty we face in His work and the path forward?

The prophet Jacob had taught in just the previous chapter: “Seek not to counsel the Lord, but to take counsel from his hand. For behold, ye yourselves know that he counseleth in wisdom, and in justice, and in great mercy, over all his works” (Jacob 4:10).

As the introduction to the Come, Follow Me—For Individuals and Families curriculum for the week of March 16-22, 2020 states, “The vineyard belongs to the Lord.” The latter-day work of the gathering of Israel is the Lord’s work. As Jacob affirmed, the Lord has all wisdom and great mercy. We can trust that He knows how to do His work.


In Zenos’ allegory, the Lord of the vineyard reminds the servant that He indeed does know the situation or “the lay of the land” so to speak. The Lord then tells His servant that He had prepared ahead of time supports to overcome these difficult circumstances: “I knew that it was a poor spot of ground; wherefore, I said unto thee, I have nourished it this long time” (Jacob 5:22).

What was the outcome? To the great surprise of the servant, the branch had not only survived but it had thrived, “thou beholdest that it hath brought forth much fruit” (Jacob 5:22).

Understanding the Lord’s Ways

It cannot be denied that the outward operations of the Church as an organization are temporarily hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, could it be that the Lord is continuing and even accelerating His work within the hearts of individuals? Is He nurturing deep unseen roots that will yield much fruit in the future?

For example, I have already observed some of the following positive shifts:

  • With fewer distractions, families are spending more quality time together and gaining greater awareness of what is really important.

  • The power of home-centered gospel teaching is being accessed more fully.

  • Missionaries are using technology to teach people, who now have more time to listen and learn.

  • As a JustServe specialist, I have experienced firsthand the deepening of relationships between organizations and Church members during this trying time. These relationships will be important in days to come.

  • Church and community members are finding more time to research their ancestry. This may create connections that lead to a great increase in missionary and temple and family history work in the future.

These are just a few early examples of how we are being nourished and strengthened by the Lord.

Service Missionary

Remember that we do not have a clear enough vision to see the Lord’s plans for His labour. Even now, the work on the other side of the veil may be hastening, unseen and unknown to us. We can choose to trust that: “The truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, and swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done” (Joseph Smith, in History of the Church, 4:540).

Jesus with lamb

Zenos testifies through rich imagery that the Lord’s work will be accomplished, despite (and perhaps because of) trying circumstances. The nurturing Lord of the vineyard and of the gathering knows (and knew) the difficulty and challenges His work would face. He has prepared the way for this latter-day gathering of Israel not only to proceed but to thrive and even accelerate, just as the branch in poor circumstances brought forth much fruit.

The Lord—so mercifully—invites us to join this great work, “if ye labor with your might with me ye shall have joy in the fruit” (Jacob 5:71). May we qualify for this privilege through exercising faith in Jesus Christ, the Lord of the vineyard.