What does the Thanksgiving holiday mean to you? For some it is a time for family and special dinners. Those in business seize the opportunity for economic gain. Others anticipate the football games.

If the holiday has been designated Thanksgiving, whom should we thank? Should we thank ourselves? Do we thank our lucky stars? Sadly, the attitude of many in our nation is summed up in television character Bart Simpson’s grace before meals: "Dear God, we paid for all this ourselves, so thanks for nothing." Author Os Guiness has appropriately suggested that, "rebellion against God does not begin with the clenched fist of atheism but with the self-satisfied heart of the one for whom ‘thank you’ is redundant."

Originally, the national holiday of Thanksgiving was ". . . to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the Beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country . . ." (George Washington, October 3, 1789)

Obviously there is nothing wrong with many of the customs associated with Thanksgiving. Visiting relatives, turkey dinners, football games and even special bargains at the stores are not bad in themselves. Actually, the enjoyment of these things is further cause for thankfulness to God. There is an ancient Jewish saying reminding us that, "He that gets enjoyment out of the world without giving thanks, has committed a sacrilege; he has defrauded the Lord."

Some people find it hard to be thankful because of the suffering and difficulties they have experienced. Life in this world can be cruel and painful. Scripture verses like the one commanding us to, "Give thanks in all circumstances" (1 Thessalonians 5:18), are hard to follow when our circumstances seem unbearable. How can we give thanks when we hurt so much? In his letters C.S. Lewis has wisely suggested that, "We ought to give thanks for all fortune: if it is ‘good,’ because it is good, if ‘bad’ because it works in us patience, humility and the contempt of this world and the hope of our eternal country." Another reminds us that, "Some people complain that God put thorns on roses, while others praise him for putting roses on thorns." Life can be very difficult but if we lose the ability to be grateful because of our suffering, we double our loss.

It is also good to remember that prosperity is often a greater threat to gratitude than hardship. In the Old Testament God repeatedly expressed concern that his people would forget him in their prosperity — and they did! The lesson of God’s Old Testament people is a warning to America, one of the most prosperous nations in the world, about the sin of ingratitude. God has shed his grace on our nation and for this we should bow before him and give thanks. The Thanksgiving holiday was established for this purpose.

On a more personal level, I have found three categories for thanksgiving very helpful. We should thank God for spiritual, relational and material blessings. The psalmist wrote, "Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits" (Psalm 103:2).