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Editor’s Note: Our friend and longtime Meridian writer Larry Barkdull passed away. To remember and honor him this is one of a series of his past articles that we are republishing regularly.
In his sweeping vision of the cosmos, Abraham learned some principles about leadership that he wrote in his record to perhaps help us, his children, in the last days.
“And I saw the stars,” began Abraham, “that they were very great, and that one of them was nearest unto the throne of God; and there were many great ones which were near unto it. And the Lord said unto me: These are the governing ones; and the name of the great one is Kolob.”[i]
To understand the vision of the heavens, Abraham, like Moses, learned that stars represent the organized intelligences, who are the spirit children of God.[ii] The greatest and “first creation, nearest to the celestial”[iii] is Kolob, which represents Jesus Christ, who is nearest to and most like God, and who, in ascending order, is “more intelligent than they all.”[iv]
Other representations of stars are revealed in the vision. For example, Abraham learned that a star called Oliblish “stands next to Kolob…which is the next grand governing creation near to the place where God resides; holding the key of power also.”[v] Could this star represent the Holy Ghost? Then, fifteen “fixed planets or stars”[vi] receive their power from Kolob and apparently govern the universe. Do these celestial bodies represent the fifteen apostles who comprise the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve?
If Kolob, Oliblish and the Fifteen represent the great and governing ones, could some distant star also represent each one of us? If so, what power do Kolob and Christ govern us and keep us in orbit?
The ‘Grand Key’ of Leaders’ Authority and Power
Abraham discovered that there exists in the universe a “grand Key, or, in other words, the governing power.” Flowing from Kolob to Oliblish to the Fifteen and out to the myriad galaxies, stars and planets, Kolob governs the universe by the power of the “grand Key,” holding all the creations of God in specific orbits. Additionally, Kolob employs the grand Key or governing power to set each sphere’s times and seasons, all of which are reckoned by the times and seasons of Kolob.
We see a parallel in Jesus’ description of the True Vine as it holds the branches in place, supplying them with life-giving energy. Jesus said, “I am the vine, ye are the branches. He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit.” Leaders seek to connect people to the True Vine; they do not seek to connect people to themselves. Leaders understand that only when they help people connect to the True Vine will the people enjoy the power of the grand Key that gives life and allows people to remain in secure orbits.
We learn the name of this governing power in Doctrine and Covenants 88; it is “the light of Christ.” God harnesses the power of this light to create stars and planets, and by the medium of this light, God sustains the life of his creations as he governs them. This “light proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space.” Moreover, the light of Christ “giveth life to all things,” and it “is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God.”
Can we not see parallels to priesthood authority and power when we read such descriptions? Emanating from the Father to the Son to the Holy Ghost to the fifteen presiding authorities on the earth, the priesthood is the universal power that gives us spiritual life and holds us in orbit around Jesus Christ. Leaders who connect themselves to the Godhead and the fifteen Apostles are fully authorized to lead, receive divine intelligence and fulfill their stewardships by the power of the Savior for the benefit of God’s children.
Fixed Stars and Wandering Stars
If a star remains fixed in Kolob’s gravitational pull, it will live to fulfill the measure of its creation; if it breaks free and becomes a wandering star, it will either self-destruct or collide with another orb and cause cataclysmic damage to both.
Of fixed and wandering souls and their kingdoms and glories, the Lord says, “And again, verily I say unto you, that which is governed by law is also preserved by law and perfected and sanctified by the same. That which breaketh a law, and abideth not by law, but seeketh to become a law unto itself, and willeth to abide in sin, and altogether abideth in sin, cannot be sanctified by law, neither by mercy, justice, nor judgment. Therefore, they must remain filthy still.”
Leaders seek to hold people in orbit. They seek to draw back wandering souls into safe orbits before they do damage to themselves and others. They do this, in part, by portraying to the wandering soul a better future.
Moving Slowly but Surely
Abraham learned that Kolob rotates deliberately so that it affects the revolutions, times and seasons of every celestial orb: “One revolution was a day unto the Lord, after the manner of his reckoning, it being one thousand years according to the time appointed unto that whereon thou standeth [Earth].”
Notice that the Lord is careful to explain that Kolob rotates more slowly than any other heavenly body and that each of God’s creations receives its “light from the revolutions of Kolob.”
What possible meaning could this have to leaders? Could it be that Kolob rotates slowly so that the weakest creation in its charge is not left behind? Imagine what might happen if Kolob increased its rotational speed by a mere second. What impact would that have on a vulnerable creation at the farthest edge of universe?
What if the president of the Church suddenly announced a massive humanitarian project that would require every member throughout the world, old and young, the life-long saint and the most recently baptized, to contribute $1,000. For some, the sum would be easy to donate and not cause a crisis of faith. But what would that requirement do to the new convert or the person who was just returning from inactivity or the child in Primary or the aged person in the nursing home?
Leaders find the right speed to help all their people progress while allowing latitude for individual desires and abilities. Abraham learned that every orb in the universe is tethered to Kolob and rotates at different velocities and enjoys individual times and seasons. Likewise, leaders hold their people in orbit while permitting the strong ones rotational speeds that suit their desire for rapid growth, and, at the same time, allowing the weak ones a speed that matches their ability to progress at a gradual rate.
Achieving balance is a divine gift. Leaders have the ability to hold people in orbit and advance their vision while promoting individuality and being ever watchful that they leave no one behind.
Think of the parents who are trying to instigate a family scripture study program with children who range from infants to teenagers. How do they keep the older children interested and not lose the little ones? According to Kolob, they should move slowly but surely to hold everyone in orbit. Then, on an individual basis, they could tailor a scriptural course to the abilities of the various children.
Leaders cannot lead unless they have integrity. Followers must believe that leaders have the ability to keep their word or they will not follow them. “What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.”
Abraham believed in the Lord’s integrity and therefore, he was willing to move from Ur and travel to Haran then to Canaan in pursuit of a promised land. Because Abraham had integrity, he advanced the vision of a promised land and convinced other believers to also leave Ur and follow him. Later, because of his integrity, Abraham convinced more people in Haran to follow him to a better future.
Paul said, “For [Abraham] looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” And of other faithful vision-seekers, “But they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.”Such is the vision of a leader.
Throughout his journeys, Abraham looked to the stars for inspiration. “Eternity was our covering and our rock and our salvation.” Suffering one trial after another, Abraham kept his integrity. And so did the Lord, who continued to hold out a vision of success to Abraham and never let him down.
Understanding the power of integrity, leaders guard their reputation by measuring what they promise so that they never are in a situation that compromises their word.
Anciently, righteous individuals swore oaths in the name of the Lord that they would keep their word or die trying. To keep their integrity, they would “appeal to Deity…in attestation of the truth of a statement or of a sworn determination to keep a promise. These statements, usually made in the name of the Lord, by people who valued their religion and their word above their lives, could be and were relied upon with absolute assurance.”
After paying the price to know God’s will, these righteous people swore oaths in the name of the Lord, essentially making God their partner. They knew that God could not fail therefore because God was their partner, they would not fail in keeping their word. Similarly, righteous leaders seek the will of the Lord and give their word carefully. When give their word, they effectively raise a standard, as did Captain Moroni, that they will keep their word at any cost.
Like Abraham, they keep their integrity. Like Job, who despite having lost his children, wealth, fame, health and friends, declared, “Till I die I will not remove mine integrity from me.”
The Power of Vision and Taking a Stand
The domain of leaders is the future. By the power of vision, they see a possibility that other people cannot see. Then, by the power of words, they make a declaration of faith and take a stand that they will achieve that vision. Simultaneously, they paint a picture of the future in such a way that it motivates people to take action.
Jesus called out to Peter and Andrew as they were fishing, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Joseph Smith boldly declared, “I intend to lay a foundation that will revolutionize the whole world. It will not be by sword or gun that this kingdom will roll on: the power of truth is such that all nations will be under the necessity of obeying the Gospel.”Leaders portray a vivid future reality and say, “Follow me, and I will lead you into that reality. Together, we will revolutionize our world.”
President Gordon B. Hinckley saw the future of temple work and caused millions of Latter-day Saints to see the same vision and go to work.
I take this opportunity to announce to the entire Church a program to construct some 30 smaller temples immediately…. This will be a tremendous undertaking. Nothing even approaching it has ever been tried before…. This will make a total of 47 new temples in addition to the 51 now in operation. I think we had better add 2 more to make it an even 100 by the end of this century, being 2,000 years “since the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the flesh.” In this program we are moving on a scale the like of which we have never seen before.
President Thomas S. Monson saw the future of missionary work, which motivated thousands of young men and women to change gears and sacrifice comforts to serve the Lord.
I am pleased to announced that effective immediately all worthy and able young men who graduate from high school, or its equivalent, regardless of where they live, will have the option of being recommended for missionary service beginning at the age of eighteen. Able worthy young women who have the desire to serve may be recommended for missionary service beginning at age nineteen.
Notice that these leaders were men of integrity, so their word was beyond question. They showed us a future, made a declaration that it would happen, took a stand to make it happen, and invited us to follow them into that future. Leaders take the lead.
Leaders guide us into possibilities that wouldn’t naturally happen or that weren’t previously predictable or goals that could not achieved without the leaders’ vision and direction. Leaders know how to demand extraordinary results and still hold the weakest of followers in productive orbits. The best leaders empower people to succeed while often receiving little credit. They understand that success is measured by people’s taking ownership of a goal and receiving credit is a distraction that takes the eye off the future.
Leaders and managers are not the same. Managers are seldom visionary, but they are good at implementing the vision of the leader. Leaders talk about the future while managers talk about the past and present. Similarly, motivational speakers and lecturers are not leaders; they might momentarily stimulate emotion and disseminate facts, but they do not create a vision then take people by the hand, place them in orbits and guide them into a better future.
Leaders take full responsibility for their vision, even if they have to stand alone. They are not dissuaded by people’s weaknesses or failures. Leaders succeed against all odds. “The works, and the designs, and the purposes of God cannot be frustrated, neither can they come to naught. For God doth not walk in crooked paths, neither doth he turn to the right hand nor to the left, neither doth he vary from that which he hath said, and his course is one eternal round.”
Leaders endure. Deviating neither to the left nor to the right or taking a crooked path, they set their sights on a goal and take a straight course toward it that transcends the constraints of time. They take an oath and a stand to achieve the future that they envision, and they will not be moved. They employ the language of leadership: “I will go and do” rather than “I will try my best.”
Imagine what these principles might mean for local Church leadership. Some years ago, our stake president, Vern Sommerfeldt, took a stand that we members would learn to read the scriptures “the Lord’s way.” He immediately took action by involving the bishops and High Council in giving workshops. Then he created a booklet with Apostles’ instructions and promises, and he provided ongoing training. The results were astonishing, as members’ appreciation of the scriptures and their ability to receive revelation increased exponentially. President Sommerfeldt is a leader.
Imagine what these principles might mean for parents or teachers. What would happen if lectures were replaced with vision? “When I look at you, this is whom I see. I see an incredible future before you.”
I once knew a young woman who struggled with her self-worth and consequently was making poor decisions. I prayed to know what to say to her and was given a glimpse of her future. I took her aside and told her that a wonderful man was in her future. As best I could, I described his character and their life together, and I urged her to start to live for him.
Initially, she resisted the idea because she couldn’t imagine that she was worthy of such a relationship, but I stood firm. “He is coming,” I insisted. “The only question is will you be ready to meet him.” The conversation made an impact, and sure enough, she began to step into that future and within a few years that wonderful man came into her life. No amount of lecturing could have had the result as the power of vision.
“Where there is no vision, the people perish.”
People are motivated to action because they want a better future; they are not motivated by tasks that are not attached to a vision. Leaders are those who present the vision. Leaders must have integrity or people will not follow. Leaders see a vision of the future; they take an oath to achieve that future; they take a stand to sacrifice whatever is necessary; then with words they paint a picture of that future and take us by the hand and lead us there, all the while keeping us in orbit.
Leaders look to the stars and help us soar.
 Abraham, Facsimile 2, Figure 5 description.
 John 15:5
 D&C 88:7.
 D&C 88:7-13.
 D&C 88:34-35.
 Abraham 3:4.
 Abraham, Facsimile 2, Figure 5 description.
 D&C 1:38.
 Abraham 1:15-16; 2:3-4, 15.
 Hebrews 11:10, 16.
 Abraham 2:16.
 McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, “Oaths,” 538.
 Job 27:5.
 Matthew 4:19.
 Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 366.
 “New Temples to Provide ‘Crowning Blessings’ of the Gospel, Ensign, May 1998.
 “Welcome to Conference,” Ensign, Nov 2012.
 D&C 3:1-2.
 1 Nephi 3:7.
 Proverbs 29:18.
[i] Abraham 3:2-3.
[ii] Abraham 3:22-23.
[iii] Abraham, Facsimile 2, Figure 1 description.
[iv] Abraham 3:19.
[v] Abraham, Facsimile 2, Figure 2 description.
[vi] Abraham, Facsimile 2, Figure 5 description.