Understanding the Drought
Robert I Holmes
A tragedy is playing itself out in the lives of ordinary Australians. All
across NSW and QLD in particular, farmers are committing suicide. These are
not young or unstable drug addicts; nor are they immoral gamblers or
prostitutes. These are ordinary, hard working, bronzed Aussies. Blokes who
have worked the land all their lives, whose parents and grandparents worked
the same land. Some of them are seventh generation farmers. What drives a
person to the edge, what makes them think there is no hope? Suicide is a
complex issue, and not really the focus of this article, but it is a symptom
of a very deep and disturbing malady in the heart of Australia.
I have spent a good deal of time recently, thinking and praying about the
drought, years in fact. In recent times there has been a resurgence of
interest in "fixing it", especially by leaders. Our political leaders are
meeting to discuss the ownership of the Murray/ Darling River system; but it
can only really be fixed with rain! Our local shire councils increase the
water restrictions; but it can really only be fixed with more rain.
Spiritual leaders are asking too. Prophetic gatherings are seeking the
Father; apostles are seeking His heart; pastors are caring for people
damaged by the drought. and still there is no respite.
An admission of miracles
In traversing our dry and thirsty land these last eight years, I have heard
story after story recounted of miracles. Yes the providence of God in Oakey,
or Mount Morgan, in Albury, Cootamundra or the Margaret River District.
Places that can provide documented evidence of a time when, either under the
guise of pastoral unity, or of a prayer effort some rain fell that day, or
the next. But in the face of such momentary miracles, the drought grinds on.
I attended such a prayer/ unity gathering myself in Canberra 2005, and that
very day it poured and poured (so much we thought people may not attend!). A
friend of mine in Nowra testifies that they have not yet been drought
declared, and consistent rain continues to fall in their river system. That
may also be true in the Ord and Fly river districts too. But these areas are
isolated exceptions to an otherwise devastating rule. The drought is eating
the inheritance of our agricultural community.
Pop culture and band-aid solutions
Many Christians have tended toward a knee-jerk reaction to the drought. We
rally people to pray, we declare and decree, and at times this seems to
work. We call for unity, we call for repentance and again God seems
placated. But the drought rolls on. Pop culture in the Church has tended to
generate a "vending machine in the sky" image of God. If we put "something"
in we get "something" out. If we give Him what He wants, we will get what we
This logic has been applied to everything from tithing (give and you will
receive); to building funds (sow and you will reap); worship (if we do x,y,z
then God will show up) and conferences. But the danger of such belief and
practice is that it can lead to a very narcissistic view of God. A "god" who
exists for us, for our benefit and who can be manipulated by our actions.
Such a god is not sovereign, and he is not in control of the world. A god
under our control and influence, who exists for us, is no god at all!
I observed this in India, in the state of Tamil Nadu. We were in a remote
mountain area, and they too were experiencing drought. To placate their gods
they had manufactured clay donkeys, and carried them up to the high places.
In a ritual of prayer and repentance they had smashed the clay donkeys at a
holy pool, and asked their gods to send rain. I asked local Hindu leaders,
"Did it work?" and they replied frankly, "Not for long, it rained for a few
days, but here we are again." The drought rolled on.
What clay donkeys have we manufactured? What holy sites have we journeyed to
in order to smash them? What gods are we trying to placate? These phantoms,
these spirits are mere idols, simple constructions of our pride and
arrogance and need to be brought down. Still. Australia is suffering the
worst drought in history.
A long term view
In spite of a stirring documentary by ex-vice president Al Gore (An
Inconvenient Truth), the Bible clearly tells us that droughts are initiated
by God. They are not a seasonal aberration; they are not caused by El Nino;
they are not the result of global warming.
The Bible offers an explanation of why droughts occur. In the book of
Deuteronomy God explains to Moses, "Take care, or you will be seduced into
turning away, serving other gods and worshiping them, for then the anger of
the LORD will be kindled against you and he will shut up the heavens, so
that there will be no rain and the land will yield no fruit; then you will
perish quickly." (Deuteronomy 11:16,17).
Droughts are God's way of highlighting certain kinds of sin. Being "seduced
into turning away" is not an overnight issue. It is generation after
generation slowly turning our hearts away from the Lord. Consider the
statistics of our "Christian" nation where 95% of people used to be
Christian (in 1886), and now less than 9% turn up to Church on any given
Sunday (in 2006). We have surely turned away from God.
"Serving other gods and worshipping them" is also not an overnight issue. A
nation worships idols, and seeks the favour of foreign gods over a long
term. This occurs both within and outside the Church. It would be hard to
argue that Australia is not idolatrous. Our commitment to sport, film and
entertainment are example enough. God responds by "shutting up the heavens,
so there will be no rain." That's a drought. It seems to be His way of
dealing with long term turning away and wrong focus.
In the second book of Chronicles, chapter seven the author deals with the
dedication of the temple of Solomon. God shows up wonderfully at the
occasion, as He does at many of our Temple celebrations today. In discussing
the place this temple would have in the worship life of Israel, God explains
to Solomon (and also to us), "I shut up the heavens so that there is no
rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my
people." (2 Chronicles 7:13).
What to do about it
Solomon is then told how the people can respond when such an event turns up.
God advises: "If my people who are called by my name humble themselves,
pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from
heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land." (2 Chronicles
7:14). This is a four-fold process of response:
1. Humble ourselves (kanah = bend the knee, humiliate, bring into
2. Pray (palal = entreat, make supplication, beg);
3. Seek God's face (baqash = search out, inquire, desire, strive
4. Turn from our wicked ways (shuwb ra' = to repent of our evil,
exceedingly great grief, tremendous damage, harm to others).
This instruction is not to "the community" and it is not the political
leaders of our nation. It is written to the believers; all those who are
called by "My Name". We are the ones who do the work.
Humbling. There has been scarce little humbling of ourselves in the Church.
Quite the contrary, we have been self-defensive, we have been on the attack,
we have been outspoken on issues. I hope and pray that humbling ourselves
will form part of any gathering or solemn assembly we may call.
Prayer. Yes we have had lots and lots of that - but not in connection with
the other three processes of humility, seeking God's face and repenting of
Seeking His face. This step is necessary because only He actually knows what
lies in the heart of each one of us (John 2:24). We seek Him because in His
presence we are able to strip away the layers of self-deception. In His face
we see a reflection of who we are really called to be. That place - of light
and life, will expose the depravity without bringing guilt and shame. That
place brings us into love, allowing us freedom through repentance.
Turning from our wicked ways. This presupposes we know the depth of our
wickedness. The Church has inflicted a deep level of harm and grief to
others. Not just in our judgmental treatment of "sinners" and our fanciful
invention of standards of "holiness", but in turning a blind eye to the
needy and the cry of those being sexually assaulted by clergy. It is
manifested in our denominationalism, where we have become keepers of fish
tanks instead of fishers of men! I will not even attempt a list of
wickedness the Church is guilty of, for such answers are found by seeking
the face of God
The drought brings it all up
Hiding under the skin, the shallow surface of Southern Africa was a dark
secret. The tan soils contained a hidden disease, waiting to come out. The
heart of Southern Africa contained destruction, but it took a drought to
release it. In 1991 South Africa suffered a drought of Biblical proportions.
It brought a kind of stress, a kind of pain that released a dormant
bacterium from the soil. Anthrax spores, unseen in our generation, rampaged
through the animal kingdom with force and vengeance. It threatened to cross
over into the human population too.
This drought is an analogy of our nation, and the condition of our heart.
Long term issues like turning away from God, and becoming idolatrous cannot
simply be dealt with by superficial prayer meetings, or generic unity
gatherings. The drought is God's answer to expose the hearts of men and
women in a profound way.
A farmer brought a semi trailer full of sheep to the sale yards last week.
The offered price for his stock was $1 per head. They were his prized stock.
Instead of selling them, he took the trailer home, released the sheep, shot
them and then shot himself. There was no hope left. His neighbour had faced
bankruptcy the week before. Instead of giving the land into the hands of the
receiver, he took his own life. These stories are both heart rending and
tragic as they are revelatory and shocking They show the depth of depression
a drought creates, and the depth of pride in the average Aussie farmer. Too
proud to let go, to proud to hand things over.
Yet they are us! We face their drought exactly the same way. Drought is a
blessing, with a sharp edge. It is the surgeon's knife causing damage, to
yield healing. It is the weapon of God's mercy. In that light let us follow
the pattern laid down for us in Scripture. Let us humble ourselves, seek His
face and pray, then turn from our wicked ways!
This may take years, it may take broad scale involvement. But first it takes
each heart, each soul to examine itself in the light of heaven's judgement.
God is not a vending machine, He is not bound to perform just because we go
through a ritual or process. But He is bound by His own character and word.
If we, then He. In the words of the prophet Joel, "Rend your hearts and not
your clothing. Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and
merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from
punishing. Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a
blessing behind him?" (Joel 2:13,14).
Mulinde, John. "Transforming Your World." 2005