Gospel Tools

Once a traveler happened upon a great field filled with people toiling away in the soil. Approaching the those in the field, the traveler asked aloud, to no one in particular, “What are you all doing?”

A voice replied with obvious enthusiasm. “We are building foundations!”

Upon turning to face the person who replied, the traveler saw someone covered in sweat and dirt from days and days of hard labor. The individual was surrounded by holes of various shapes, sizes, and depths. “I don’t understand?” the traveler questioned.

“Look here,” said the laborer pointing to a set of tools neatly arrayed, carefully placed on the ground nearby. The traveler’s eyes fell upon a vast array of tools: pickaxes, trowels, shovels, hoes, rakes, spades, and many more such implements. The tools were well used and well cared for. The various blades, tangs, and edges were sharp and clean; the handles were oiled and polished. The tools glisten in the hot sun.

“I’ve been practicing my whole life to become an expert in each of the tools,” said the laborer humbly. “I am not perfect at all of them, but I am better than I’ve ever been.”

“Show me,” said the traveler. “Let me see.”

The laborer picked up one tool after the other and lovingly caressed each, explaining to the traveler each the tool’s history and method of use. Then, wielding the tools with a precision that only comes from a lifetime of practice, the laborer demonstrated proper technique for each and every tool, slicing and moving the ground with an efficiency and economy of movement which left the traveler speechless. “This is indeed a skilled worker,” the traveler thought.

When the explanations and demonstrations concluded—and the tools had been meticulously cleaned and returned to their resting location—the traveler noticed all of the new holes of various shapes, sizes and depths that resulted from the laborer’s demonstration.

Curiously, the traveler asked, “I thought you said you were building foundations? I see holes of various shapes and depths but nothing that looks like a foundation. When will you begin to do that?”

The laborer replied, “when I am finally an expert with these tools, then… then, I will begin to build foundations. Perhaps I’ll even expand some of these smaller holes I’ve started.” Then looking back to the field, the laborer said kindly, and almost apologetically, “now, if you’ll excuse me, I must return to my work.” And with that the laborer retrieved a tool and continued the practice of refining each movement by digging new holes here and there.

Realizing no more information would be provided by this laborer, the traveler looked for someone else to question. Nearby, the traveler spied another laborer working diligently. At first the laborer was hard to see—only a head was visible peaking above the surface of the field—but as the traveler approached, a vast hole came into view. The hole had edges that were smooth and straight, and corners that were neat and square. A small set of earthen stairs led into the pit.

This laborer was as sweaty and dirty as the first.

 “Hello!” shouted the traveler, “may I come and speak with you?”

“Very well,” replied the second laborer looking up. “Please come down the stairs carefully.”

The traveler entered the deep depression in the earth and approached the laborer. The same tools surrounded this laborer as those used by the previous laborer. The uneven wear on this laborer’s tools suggested a less-skilled hand wielded them.

Observing the laborer at work reinforced the traveler’s suspicions. This laborer used the tools satisfactorily but struggled to use them with the same efficiency as the first. Compared to the first laborer’s graceful, finely-honed movements, this individual’s efforts were choppy and uneven. When questioned, this laborer did not know much about the history of the tools being used nor was this laborer able to demonstrate proper technique. And there were a few tools that looked as if they had hardly been used at all.

And yet, the traveler examined the walls which surrounded him. They were remarkably sturdy and well built. It was a beautiful foundation. Puzzled at the incongruity between the way the laborer seemed to work and end result, the traveler asked, “tell me, friend, how is it that someone like you, who is not —if you don’t mind my saying—as skilled or knowledgeable as others, could build such a beautiful foundation? You haven’t even used all of the tools.”

The laborer hesitated, trying to formulate a response. “I don’t know what you mean?” A furrowed brow belied a sense of confusion. “My Master has not asked me become an expert at tools… and not every tool works for me, I use the tools that I need when I need them.” A pause on the part of the traveler implied that further explanation was needed, so the laborer, took a breath and asserted (with a sense of finality and a hint of frustration): “My Master has asked me to build foundations; that is what I am doing.”

Recalling the conversation with the first laborer, the traveler responded, “but mustn’t you first become an expert in tools before you build a foundation—mustn’t you use all the tools?”

The laborer pointed unpretentiously to the four sturdy walls surrounding them and said thoughtfully, “I guess not.”


  1. Maybe I’m too obtuse, but I don’t understand what the intended allegory is supposed to be.

    Are the tools supposed to represent the LDS Tools app and that only a few of the features are helpful?

    Or maybe the members of the church are tools or instruments? If that’s the case, is the intended messages that only some members are useful at building Zion’s foundation and others should be ignored? Kind of runs counter to Elder Wirthlin’s message from many years ago.

    Or maybe the message is that we shouldn’t look beyond the mark by trying to be perfect in all the minutia of what the brethren say we should be doing, and instead use the few talents and skills we are able to use serve others and build Zion? I kind of link this one.

    Or maybe this post is more of a Rorschach test, and what we make of it is entirely our own.

    Hopefully the OP author can enlighten us.

  2. I’d say that the messages is that God isn’t looking for us to perfect our skills in nice, safe locations where we practice but don’t actually build anything needful. God wants us to get out there and Do.

    Which makes me think of the truly useless service activities RS occasionally has where we sew, tie, paint items that it would be way cheaper and better to just buy.

  3. (OP) MDavid says:

    Thanks for the comments. In all candor, I originally had a section at the end of the story that “explained” it… but it felt border-line pedantic so I left it out. Recognizing that meaning creation is deeply personal and that what I intended may not actually be the what other folks take away, you both ended up where I hoped the story would lead:

    God has given us many gospel tools. Among our gospel tools are scriptures, temples, priesthood quorums and auxiliaries, callings and other church responsibilities (this is only the start of a very long list).However, we must be cautious that we do not allow our affinity for gospel tools to obscure the purpose for which they were given; nor should we assume that every gospel tool works for every person in every situation. Because, in the end, God is not trying to build a people who are proficient in worship practices (Isaiah 1:13-17, 27; Hosea 6:6; Amos 5:21-24; Micah 6:6-8) but a people who are kind, merciful, just, and charitable—what the LDS vernacular would call a “Zion People.”

  4. That’s a very beautiful explanation mdavid. Thanks for sharing. Your last line about not becoming a people proficient at worshipping struck a chord with me.
    A similar sentiment is the old Brigham young story about when after hearing about the handcart company he made it clear it was time to get out of church and get in your wagon to save people.

  5. bismark says:

    Reminds me of a recent EQ lesson I sat through where the teacher encouraged us to live righteously by reading our scriptures daily, attending church weekly, and frequently visiting the temple. It made me really question how often we are measuring our righteousness by how well we’re performing these “Sunday School answer” rituals…

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