But could this exceptional year for drought have an important scriptural lesson to teach us?
Drought in Scripture
Beginning in Genesis, and following on to the book of Revelation, the term drought "“ or famine "“ in the Bible occurs around 119 times. And though the word is often associated with drought in the literal sense ("And there was a famine in the land: and Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there; for the famine was grievous in the land." "“ Genesis 12 v 10), it can also be understood in the spiritual context ("Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord." "“ Amos 8 v 11).
It was impending drought that caused Joseph, following an interpretation of a dream he had received, to forewarn Pharaoh of the seven years of famine that was soon to befall Egypt, thus the preparing the Egyptians and God's people for the difficult times to come (Gen 41).
Jesus forewarned his followers of the increasing drought conditions that would plague the earth before his return. In the gospel of Matthew, we read:
""¦and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows." (Matthew 24 v 7)
But drought is also a sign of divine anger. When nations have become as sinful as to be deserving of the reproving hand of God, drought is a harbinger of wrath to come (Ezekiel 14 v 13; Amos 4 v 7).
In the book of Genesis, we are provided with the first account of a most significant drought event to have besieged the entire planet. It was at a time when sinful conditions in the earth had reached desperate new heights and so God decided to destroy the world with an environmental overthrow.
The Flood narrative is a familiar one to many of us, yet what we often fail to recognise is the underlying theme which underpins this biblical story. We understand how God delivered righteous Noah and his family from the earth-destroying event. However, the world had suffered its own environmental upheaval long before the floods arrived.
In chapter five of the book of Genesis, the Bible presents the following testimony:
"And Lamech lived an hundred eighty and two years, and begat a son: and he called his name Noah, saying, This same shall comfort us in our work and in the toil of our hands, which cometh because of the ground which Jehovah hath cursed." (Gen 5 v 28-29)
Scripture reveals the extent to which the generation preceding Noah "“ and following thereafter "“ worked and toiled against a drought which increasingly resulted in a most unproductive harvest.
Yet an even more vivid illustration of these pre-Flood conditions is brought to our attention in Jewish Talmudic literature:
""¦During this time there was neither sowing nor reaping. There was a grievous famine in the land, for when the people became corrupt, the land was also corrupted, and, instead of fruit for man's sustenance, it brought forth thorns and thistles." :"(The Talmud, p. 16.)":
What both these accounts tell us, because sinful conditions in the world before the Flood were ever on the increase, is that somehow this state of affairs would have a direct consequence upon man's surrounding environment. The result being that drought ensued, culminating, by Noah's day, in a world where agricultural conditions were no longer favourable to humankind.
But we see how the global environment was restored when Noah departed the ark and began to be a husbandman (Gen 9 v 20).
So, from a scriptural perspective, we understand how man and the earth are inextricably bound. :"(A further scriptural example of the close affinity man shares with the earth can be seen in respect to the corresponding Hebrew nouns adam, meaning human being, humanity, and adama, meaning earth, soil, ground)":
Drought and Sinfulness
"For from the least of them even unto the greatest of them every one is given to covetousness; and from the prophet even unto the priest every one dealeth falsely." (Jeremiah 6 v 13)
We live in extraordinary times. Not a day goes by when the airwaves are not filled with yet more bad tidings of violence, theft, corruption, sexual perversion "“ and sin. And it would appear that nowhere remains untouched. From the highest seats of power to the lowest, politician to policeman, clergyman to clairvoyant, sin abounds wherever we look.
So it could be said for sin's implications. Never before has the world encountered the perils it now faces. From climate uncertainty to international terrorism, the threat of nuclear war to ever depleting natural resources, violent youth culture to a hedonistic sex and drugs scene, the world is set for turbulent times ahead.
In the gospel of Luke, Jesus likened the days before his coming again to the biblical account of Sodom and Gomorrah; where violence and sexual immorality characterised these neighbouring cities, the same conditions will be prevalent before His second coming (Luke 17 v 28-29; Gen 18, 19). And he also likened the time to the days of Noah; where corruption and violence were endemic in the earth, before the floods came and washed all away, the same patterns of sinful behaviour would materialise in the last days (Luke 17 v 26-27; Gen 6 v 9-11). However, the perilous sinful conditions were not the only aspect particular to Noah's time. In the days before the Flood, as the earth laboured with the intense weight of sin placed upon it, the ground refused to yield up its harvest; and as human sinfulness deteriorated still further, the implications became felt even more throughout the surrounding environment.
The present tide of lawlessness sweeping the world is not without parallel. The violence, murder, sexual immorality, theft, deceit and corruption that we are exposed to on a daily basis are all reminiscent of the days before the Flood.
Yet, as with the days of Noah, the current moral climate is not the only one where diminishment can be felt.
There is not a region of the world that is not in the grip of adverse environmental upheaval; from land to sea, all the earth's living systems are in major decline. And there is worse to come. By century's end, the world could experience temperatures as hot as to no longer support conditions favourable to life on earth.
If the threat to Noah's time was of drought and watery deluge, then the threat to ours is of drought, heat and fire.Ã‚Â :"(Malachi 4 v 1; 2 Peter 3 v 10)":
Nonetheless, it is the manner by which we approach this most formidable of looming dangers that is cause for concern.
In his second epistle, prophesying against worldly attitudes in the last days, the apostle Peter instructs:
"Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation. For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water: whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished: but the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men." (2 Pet 3 v 3-7)
Peter speaks of a time to come, which in the face of imminent catastrophe, scoffs at the idea of God's judgment. In effect, they will say: "Who is this God to order us around? We will do exactly as we please. We are not afraid of what the Bible says, and besides, everything continues as it has done from the beginning "“ and things can only get better. We don't need this God telling us what to do." Such will be the extent of their delusion that they will uphold their argument, even as the ill-boding clouds of apocalypse appear on the horizon.
If there is one thing that encapsulates the spirit of our times, it is our ability to believe, against our better judgment, that all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.
Drought in the Church
"For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables." (2 Timothy 4 v 3-4)
The world is not the only place to experience the adverse effects of drought. Even in the church the famine can be felt.
A dramatic shift is now taking place around the world. Where for millennia the church's teachings have been that of death to self and life everlasting, people have grown tired of contending for the faith once delivered to the saints. Instead, the emphasis has moved away from all such traditional practices and has become preoccupied by a gospel of self.
The emergence is not something new. The church has steadily been departing from its calling for some time now. What is clear is that unless your church offers a programme which appeals more to the senses than to the Spirit, then your pews will likely remain empty.
So what better way to attract any would-be seeker than by presenting them with a version of the gospel dressed up as the world?
The brave new face of the twenty-first century church is of a self-seeking, prosperity-centred gospel that incorporates elements of positive psychology, intermingled with heavy doses of worldly worship to stimulate the senses. And judging by the mass appeal, the new approach appears to be a success: the mega-church phenomenon "“ or rather experience "“ is fast becoming the only accepted way of 'doing church'.
Hillsong is the 'new way' sweeping the nations. Based in Sydney, Australia, and with other branches spanning the globe, its success can be found in its audacious approach to the Christian gospel.
Visit any Hillsong church and you will be forgiven for thinking you had just stumbled into the wrong place. The lights that first hit you aren't the sun-permeated stained-glass windows but the strobe lighting that illuminates the entire auditorium. "We're gonna party for Christ!" echoes from the podium, followed by the loud screeching of electric guitars, received by a sea of waving hands. And when the worship dissipates, the buckets appear (Hillsong has deduced the best time to gather tithes and offerings from its flock is when the atmosphere has reached fever pitch).
In presenting a version of the gospel that is both self-seeking and pleasure-orientated, Hillsong has found that not only is its message much sought after, but it also ensures its adherents come back, week after week, pockets brimming and yearning for more. It is a proven formula that guarantees any floundering church a sure way to survive the days ahead.
To better understand the phenomenon known as Hillsong, one need only sample from one of the many religious resources on offer by husband and wife co-founders, Brian and Bobbie Houston. You Need More Money (by Brian Houston) and Kingdom Women Love Sex (by Bobbie Houston), are just two of the fascinating titles available which sum-up the liberal attitude of Hillsong.
As for its returning faithful, notebooks in hand, what is clear is they are not there to learn the tenets of holy living, or how better to endure persecution, when it comes. The ethos of Hillsong is more one of a business seminar, directed at budding entrepreneurial types, with a keen sense to emulate the success driven examples of its founders, than it is a church with preparedness for the coming Kingdom in mind. Hillsong's motto should be not what you can do for God but what God can do for you.
The measure of any church's appeal is always to be found in its worshippers. Just a glance through the pages of one of Hillsong's catalogues demonstrates a church not at all aggrieved by the sin of the world but rather very much at ease and in its element. Smiling, happy, vibrant young faces speak of a church that is cool and contemporary, hip and happening, and in no way in awe and reverence of a holy God. (If church can be this good then who really needs the world's offerings?) It is a far cry from the church's beginnings when they were being fed to hungry lions, persecuted and hated of the world (Hebrews 11 v 36-38). But the Spirit was working mightily then and there was not the spiritual hunger there is now.
But when there is drought we will eat whatever is given to us (Luke 15 v 14-16).
Hillsong is not the only church to propagate its doubtful agenda in these times. Wherever spiritual drought prevails today one can be sure to find a church ready to step into the void in order to fulfil its own objectives.
Yet, where there is spiritual drought there is also to be found the most extreme examples of physical drought. And in 2006, nowhere could this be said more than for Australia, the home of Hillsong.
The urgency of the situation should not be underestimated; Australia is a land in crisis. Following six consecutive years of drought, and with no end in sight, Australians are beginning to sit up and take notice of the very significant threat to their borders. Deserts as far as the eye can see are replacing what was once fertile green land, and water is fast becoming a most precious resource. As one bush fire is extinguished, it is only to be replaced by yet another that bursts into flame. Should conditions remain this bad, Australia could see the first mass migration of climate refugees in years to come.
For Australia, nothing can be more urgent than the welcome arrival of rain.
Which is why, on the 26 November 2006, Australia's church leaders, joined by Pastor Brian Houston of Hillsong, proposed a national day of prayer in time of drought.
As the leaders of Australia's main church denominations struggled to come to terms with the calamitous situation affecting their land, they issued the following joint declaration:
"We are very conscious of the life and death needs that beset so many people around this world every day and we in no way intend that much needed prayer be deflected from these situations. At the same time we recognise that water is an urgent and immediate need affecting so many of us here and now in the most basic ways. So it is with the confidence that Jesus urged upon us that we simply go to God with this need." :"( NCCA statement, 15 November 2006 http://www.ncca.org.au/media_releases/061115_church_leaders_promote_national_day_of_prayer_in_time_of_drought)":
The statement could have read for the drought affecting the whole world "“ and in more ways than one.
The church needs to be mindful of the life and death needs that beset so many people in the world every day, and we must not cease to pray for an end to the dire situation Australia is presently faced with. Yet the physical effects of drought are but a pertinent reminder of a more insidious drought particular to our times: a spiritual drought that persists wherever churches like Hillsong gain their influence.
A Call to Seek God in Time of Drought
"And the Lord said to Hosea, Go, take unto thee a wife of whoredoms and children of whoredoms: for the land hath committed great whoredom, departing from the Lord." (Hosea 1 v 2)
The Old Testament prophet Hosea lived in times very similar to our own.
Israel was in a state of perpetual backsliding and rather than rely upon God for their sustenance they went 'a-whoring' after the nations around them.
And though God sent out His prophet to plead with His people to turn from their ways and to escape the judgment to come, the message went unheeded.
The present church age has found itself in a very similar predicament to that of ancient Israel.
Where once it was the calling of God's people to remain separate from this world, more often in these times we find ourselves indistinguishable from the world; and rather than to look to God for all our needs, we rely more upon worldly means "“ success, riches and material prosperity "“ to satiate our spiritual hunger.
But unlike Israel, the threat to our times comes not from the hostile surrounding nations as much as it does a hostile surrounding environment.
With each day that passes yet more bad tidings of environmental woe are heard, and from one year to the next earth's deteriorating situation worsens.
And like Israel, we have come to shut our eyes and ears to such things: rather than flee from wrath to come, we continue regardless of it.
But as the sinful and environmental milieu in the days of Noah steadily became worse it took a cataclysmic earth event to restore man to his rightful place in his Creator.
We have all of a sudden reached that same point where even the earth cries out to us for sin.
The world desperately seeks an answer to the environmental crisis.
Yet the answer it seeks is not one where God has a place.
We recognise the situation to be a direct consequence of our selfish living.
Yet we lack the will to amend our ways and relinquish our placing the world and its material resources above the Creator of all things.
"Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen." (Romans 1 v 25)
The Bible calls anything we might place before God idolatry.
The only difference to Old Testament times, when people worshipped the works of their own hands, is that idolatry is on a global scale.
"A drought is upon her waters; and they shall be dried up: for it is the land of graven images, and they are mad upon their idols." (Jeremiah 50 v 38)
The Bible warns God will destroy them which destroy the earth (Revelation 11 v 18).
Is there an answer to our dilemma?
In the days of the prophet Hosea, as Israel was encamped on all sides by her enemies, it appeared all hope had perished.
Yet the Word of God came to the prophet still.
If she put away her idolatries, and stopped worshipping the works of her own hands, then God promised to pour out His blessings on that dry and thirsty land (Hos 6 v 3).
The alternative would be her enemies would pursue her until she becomes a desolate and barren wasteland (Hos 2 v 3; 8 v 3).
The answer cannot be any more plain:
"Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord: his going forth is prepared as the morning; and he shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth." (Hos 6 v 3)
All other roads lead to drought.