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In the movie Apollo 13, not long after an oxygen tank had exploded on the spacecraft, the computers at Mission Control in Houston were flashing more warning lights and urgent messages than you could shake a stick at.  The failures of critical systems were cascading quickly.  In the midst of the chaos the Mission Control Director, Gene Kranz (played memorably by Ed Harris) says, “Let’s look at this from a standpoint of status.  Um, what have we got on the spacecraft that’s good?”  The only immediate answer he gets from one person was “Oh boy, let me get back to you on that, Gene.”

What have we got on the spacecraft that’s good?  Sometimes lately I have used that desperate question borne out of fear and frustration as a metaphor for lots of things in the world just now.  Wars and tragic loss of life go on and on in places like Ukraine and Gaza.   Politically in the U.S. things are at an all-time low on many fronts even as the country is headed for an electoral rematch that polls show basically no one wants and yet no one knows how to head it off either.  Ecclesiastically denominations are rattling apart even as pastors report that conditions “on the ground” inside congregations remain fraught and fractured since the pandemic, and not a few preachers have the sense they could be one misinterpreted sentence away from being shown the door. 

So, you know, what have we got on the spacecraft that’s good?  Anything?  Well, thankfully for the three Apollo 13 astronauts there were still good things on the spacecraft one of which was the Lunar Module that became their lifeboat when the Command Module had to be totally shut down for most of their perilous trip back to Earth.  They could not use the LM to land on the moon as it turned out but it kept them alive.  Once they had moved back into the Command Module and cut the Lunar Module loose shortly before re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere, the astronauts thanked the LM as it slowly tumbled away into space.

What have we got on the spacecraft that’s good?  If we look around we can find such good things.  Last week I read the new book Gratitude: Why Giving Thanks Is the Key to Our Well-Being by Neal Plantinga.  I highly recommend it.  Among a panoply of other good gifts, the book is overall a reminder that if we take the time to look around ourselves—even in otherwise unhappy seasons—we can find things for which to give God (and others) thanks.  “Gratitude is a glad sense of being gifted with something by someone and thus being indebted to the giver” (p. 7).  More than just an occasional feeling that comes and goes, Plantinga goes on to say that truly grateful people are “inclined to feel gratitude most of the time . . . We could say they have a grateful disposition” (p. 7). 

I want to be that sort of person.  Maybe we all do.  But I know that I need the Spirit’s prodding of my heart many days to get there.  At the end of a work day when my wife and I sit down to have a drink and talk about our days, how easy it is to zero in on the distressing events of a given day and perseverate on only those things.  It often requires some diligence and effort to do what Plantinga recommends: take time at the end of each day for each spouse (or friend or roommate) to name one item from the day for which they are thankful.

Maybe it was a particularly tasty bowl of homemade soup that you had for lunch.  Maybe it was an out-of-the-blue kind message someone sent you via email or some other messaging service (I got one of those from a dear soul just last week on a day I needed it, not that she knew that of course).  Maybe it was hearing a really fine sermon in church or being uplifted by a choral piece of lyric beauty that made your heart beat a little faster with joy.  Maybe it is noticing that despite all the rotten things in the political world, there are still faithful servants who genuinely try to do things to improve people’s lives.  Maybe it can even come from a fundraising email you get and even though we may grow weary with being bombarded with requests for money, it is still a good reminder that something like International Rescue Committee is working in the most dangerous places on earth to save children’s lives. 

What have we got on the spacecraft that’s good?  Those good things are out there.  May God’s Holy Spirit keep opening our eyes to them each day and when that happens, we could use a somewhat out-of-fashion phrase by which to thank the Giver of all good things: “Dear God, much obliged.”

Scott Hoezee

Scott Hoezee is Director of the Center for Excellence in Preaching at Calvin Theological Seminary.


  • Gordon and Ruth Kamps says:

    You made my day!,or rather, Dear God, I oblige!

  • Heather Loenen says:

    Thank you for sharing this. This will make a terrific companion article for my Physical Health Education students when introducing my online course’s one-week-long Gratitude Journal assignment. Wonderful.

  • Henry Baron says:

    Thanks, Scott – a much-needed reminder in these trying times – practice gratitude!

  • Rodney Haveman says:

    I wonder sometimes if these are just an expression of gratitude:
    “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
    Not something we need to do, but a response to everything good around us and maybe even all the crap too, because God is in both … (maybe?)
    Thanks for the reminder and the challenge and the gift.

  • David E Stravers says:

    Yes! I give thanks for your stories. And if we were able to multiply and identify all those good things for which people everywhere are giving thanks, we might discover that the world is a better place today than it was a hundred years ago. For that, I give thanks.

  • Diane Dykgraaf says:

    One of our pastors will sometimes begin a prayer by saying or writing, “Thank you, God, for all of the diseases we don’t have.” (we have a fairly large congregation and that brings with it many needs.) This simple beginning is a perspective changer. Much like your blog here – Thank you.

  • James C Dekker says:

    Even though it’s sometimes hard to embrace, I often recall with thanks a Ref Journal article Lewis Smedes wrote sometime in the early 90s, I think, in which he was dealing with a similar theme and said with typical Smedesian verve something like this: “In this world of so much suffering and disease, I am often astounded at the overall epidemic of wellness that God provides.” Yup. Thanks Lew and Scott and Neal.

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