by Dr Graham McLennan, founder of the National Alliance of Christian Leaders and Australian Christian History Research website.
Australian history is full of stories of Christian people praying in times of drought and seeing miraculous answers.
“When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among My people, if My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
2 Chronicles 7:13-14 (NIV)
Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
My grandfather Neil McLennan was a Councillor of the Swan Hill Shire from 1893 to 1910. In 1902, he introduced a scheme where the Murray River was used to irrigate 2,000 acres, the first major irrigation in Australia. His son Louis, an uncle did the initial feasibility study for the Ord River Scheme that helped open up North Western Australia for irrigation.
So my family has had a long interest in the practical realities of conserving water in Australia. Having said that, what are the spiritual realities of conserving water embedded in our history?
Prayer was often the first port of call for our nation as we faced the challenge of both spiritual and physical drought!
Fifty years after the arrival of the first fleet, the Governor of NSW, George Gipps, a Christian, proclaimed Sunday 2 November 1838 a national day of fasting and humiliation because of the severe drought. Within two days, heavy rains began to fall, causing many to come down with the flu! (At one stage, NSW governed most of Australia and many of the South Pacific islands, including New Zealand.)
In the intervening years on Saturday 13 February 1869, a Day of Humiliation for the drought was appointed by the Government as a day of general humiliation and prayer to the Almighty, on account of the fearful drought that had afflicted for so long a very large portion of the colony.
In the Cassilis Public School Inspector’s report of 1877, it tells of the school closing for a day in November 1877 to allow the children to attend a special church service for “Day of Humiliation and Prayer for Rain” and in February 1878, the children were given a holiday on a day of “Thanksgiving for the breaking of the drought”.
Fifty-seven years later, on 11 September 1895, a day of prayer was again called in similar circumstances. Three weeks later, a day of thanksgiving was proclaimed to thank God for the breaking of the drought.
This was short-lived as the years leading up to Federation (January 1901) saw intermittent dry spells over most of the country, particularly in 1897 and 1899; in most of Queensland, dry conditions were virtually unbroken from 1897.
Most other parts of the country had reasonable rain in 1900 and early 1901; however, with the coming of spring 1901, very dry weather set in across eastern Australia. By February 1902, concerns were expressed about Sydney’s water supply, and the NSW Government declared 26 February a day of ‘humiliation and prayer’ for rain in that State.
Similar declarations were made in Queensland in April and Victoria in September, as the drought worsened.
During this time Christians were coming together to discuss the Federation Movement, and many were desiring to see God acknowledged as the ruler of the nations, and so it was acknowledged in the preamble to our Constitution “…humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God…”
(Even the Sydney Morning Herald’s Editorial dated 14 April 1897 stated “no Christian could in conscience vote for a Federation Bill that did not recognise God”!)
Churches also campaigned: “that there also be embodied in the said Constitution, or in the Standing Orders of the Federal Parliament, a provision that each daily session of the Upper and Lower Houses of the Federal Parliament be opened with a prayer by the President and Speaker or by a Chaplain”. They also asked for the Governor-General to be empowered to proclaim National Days of Thanksgiving & Repentance.
Over a hundred years later in 2004, the Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia, His Excellency Major General Michael Jeffery, has fulfilled the desire of many Christians in Australia in the 1890’s, and indeed this new millennium, and helped launch a National Day of Thanksgiving. More recently an annual National Day of Prayer and Fasting (Humiliation) was initiated in 2011. Next year it will be celebrated on Saturday 22 February 2020.
So, we have the encouragement from our history and from the word of God to break the drought, by first breaking the spiritual drought!
O Lord, please forgive us our trespasses and deliver us from evil, and bring healing to our nation:
Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name, thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.