FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Life of Surrender: Cody Wilson

with Cody Wilson | March 25, 2024
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Ever feel like you're always holding on tight, afraid to let go? What if surrendering brought more than you expected - like freedom and strength? NFL player Cody Wilson uncovered remarkable freedom in unexpected decisions.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Ever feel like you’re always holding on tight, afraid to let go? NFL player Cody Wilson uncovered remarkable freedom in unexpected decisions.

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Life of Surrender: Cody Wilson

With Cody Wilson
March 25, 2024
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Cody: My inheritance was: “You live in radical faith, and you do whatever God calls you to do.” So, when I said “yes” to the Lord, I knew what following Jesus looked like. It looked like going to Nebraska and raising support for 15 years; going to seminary; being the youngest chaplain in Lions’ history; starting a church and living in faith. That's the call of everyone to follow Jesus. We can minimize that, but it's absolute abandonment and surrender and saying “yes” to Him.

Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I'm Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at

Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!

Dave: Alright, so, today's an exciting day on FamilyLife Today.

Ann: I'm so excited. [Laughter]

Dave: This has never happened before—

Ann: —for us.

Dave: —first time. What's going on?

Ann: We have our youngest son with us in the studio today. Cody Wilson, welcome to FamilyLife Today!

Cody: Let's go! I'm excited to be here with my parents. [Laughter]

Dave: Don't give away any of our secrets or bad things we've done.

Ann: You can say anything you want.

Cody: Pretty sure you guys have written two books with all your mistakes in them. [Laughter] So, I think people know pretty well.

Ann: Hey, so you're married. How many years have you been married?

Cody: I've been married nine years. We'll be celebrating 10 this coming June. Two kids: 4-1/2-year-old son [who] just started preschool; 2-1/2-year-old daughter. So, our home is crazy right now. It's super fun.

Dave: Not a lot of sleep going on?

Cody: Not a lot of sleep, but someday.

Dave: And what else [are] you doing right now? Tell us what you're doing.

Cody: Well, I lead—

Dave: —no, don't tell us. Tell our listeners. We sort of know.

Cody: I lead a ministry called Living Army. We're pretty much a Prayer House. We function a lot like a local church, but our heart is worship; it's prayer. And all through the week, we create spaces for people to encounter Jesus through worship [and] through prayer; and have services on Sunday. [I’ve] been doing that for about the last three years, leading that. I was a teaching pastor at my dad's church before then, which was super fun as well, teaching with him and getting to do ministry with him. We still do a lot together.

Dave: Listeners have heard your name, because we tell stories about CJ and Austin. CJ's our number one son. Austin's in the middle, and then Cody—

Cody: —I don't know about #1. He's the oldest. [Laughter]

Dave: There we go. [Laughter] But I mean, your journey—your whole life has been sports. But in the sports world, you go from the Michigan Dream Team, which is the best 20 players in the state of Michigan your senior year.

Cody: Yes.

Ann: You all knew this would be about football. [Laughter]

Dave: We won’t keep it about football, but then you get a full ride to play college football, and then you end up in the NFL with the Detroit Lions for a couple of seasons, and then a pastor. Now, you've got your own ministry. Give us the journey, the sort of behind-the-scenes journey. You don’t have to go your whole life. But where was God working in your life—

Ann: —and let me—

Dave: —through that whole thing?

Ann: —let me—

Dave: —and here goes mom. She's going to kick it off.

Ann: No, I was just going to say, “Let me add this too,” because a lot of you—most of you—are probably parents, as you're listening to this. Don't we all, as parents, we long for our kids to walk with Jesus?

Dave: Right.

Ann: That's a journey, and we'd like to be able to control it for our kids [Laughter] and make it happen, but each of our kids has a journey and a path they go on.

Cody, don't you feel that with Bryce and Autumn? You want them to walk with Jesus; to know Him.

Cody: Yes, for sure.

Ann: So, where should we start with Cody?

Cody: I know we're talking a little bit about my journey with worship, specifically worship music. It was funny—I was thinking on the way over of [saying], “My parents started a church; pastored for, was it over 30 years at Kenzington?

Dave: 30, yes.

Cody: They started, and it was a secret church on the weekends. So especially with worship music, they had a thing called New Community, now called Midweek.

I remember being eight years old, going to Midweek. You'd probably be preaching or playing in the band, and so, I'd be next to the mom, and we'd be worshiping but I didn't know the songs. I was kind of scared to sing, because I was eight, so I would mouth the lyrics, [Laughter] but I wouldn't let words come out. And I remember mom next to me, belting so loud! [Laughter]

So, my journey spiritually was growing up in church but, I was thinking about even discipleship, and I think of this for myself, as a parent. I always say, “Discipleship is a demonstration.” Your kids—we've talked about the greatest thing I was given wasn't the lessons I learned, or you taught me, but it was the life I saw demonstrated and laid down for Jesus, which wasn’t perfect. No perfect parents allowed! [Laughter] But those are the things you remember: the demonstrations of worship or waking up and seeing Mom on the deck on her knees.

I remember even seeing someone on social media saying, “If you want to make an impact for your kids, let them see you crying before the Lord on your knees before Him; in the Word; or in the presence of God.” Those are the memories for me that are seared in. I’ve said it a lot like this: “Discipleship is a demonstration.” Your kids are learning about marriage by watching your marriage, which is a scary thought. [Laughter] They’re learning about how to deal with conflict by seeing how you deal with conflict. They’re learning about what it means to follow Jesus in the way you're following Jesus.

You know, for me, I really looked at you guys’ life, and it was a surrendered life. You raised support for 15 years. I heard stories of my parents making radical moves of faith, and there's inheritance in that. So, for me, I grew up,4 and I think I knew what it meant to follow Jesus was this place of absolute surrender, because I'd seen it demonstrated.

I grew up—I remember Mom, specifically (which is weird), giving me a bath at 3 ½, sharing the gospel with me and me giving my life to Jesus. I remember that!

Dave: Wow.

Cody: So, I remember that was salvation for me. But, you know, I grew up going to church. I liked being there. I always had a relationship with Jesus, I actually think I was—looking back now, probably growing up as a pastor’s kid—I was such a bad kid. I was probably a really good kid. [Laughter]

Ann: You were a really good kid!

Cory: I liked following the rules. I didn't want my parents to look bad, but I felt bad. It probably affected me more than I knew at the time. But my journey was mostly football, like you said, and [in] my sophomore year at Central Michigan, [I] got voted MVP of the team; was top ten in the country. I remember, that was my pursuit. [I] still would go to FCA and church, but it wasn't my priority. It was like the things I thought would fill me up. I was very empty. I didn't like who I was.

I remember going out; I had a recruit. It was rare for me to go out and party or drink. If I did, I’d get a call from my mom the next morning [saying], “I was praying for you. Did you go out last night?” [Laughter]

Dave: We had cameras in your room. [Laughter]

Cody: It’s what it felt like! I remember having a night that was rare for me and waking up the next morning and just being like, “I don't like who I am. I don't like the decisions I'm making.” I remember I was with a teammate, and he was like, “Dude, don't worry about it. That's just what you do as a college athlete.” —

Ann: —because you had partied that night?

Cory: Yes, and I did some stuff I wasn't proud of. [There were] people I needed to apologize to. I remember I had some Christian friends. I didn't want them to know, and they ended up finding out. I was in my dorm room that night, and I remember one of them spoke to me, and they asked, “Is God enough for you?” Well, the first thing they asked was, “Why do you go out and do things?” I was like, “I don't know why I do those things.” I just said, “It's just what you do. It's the way of the world and being a college athlete.” Then they asked the question, “Is God enough for you?”

In my whole life, I would have been like, “Yes. I went on the mission trips, the retreats. I went to church, I had knowledge. I had a lot of knowledge of Jesus; a lot of it from you guys teaching. As I started walking with the Lord, I was super thankful for that, because there was a foundation that wasn't valuable at the time but became very valuable.

And I don't know why, but for some reason in that moment, I just realized, “No, He's not enough for me. He hasn't been enough for me, and most of the decisions I’ve made have been about what I want to do, not what He wants for my life. I think I had this realization of, honestly, sin and brokenness in places I hadn't chosen the Lord, but I had this—I didn't have language for it at the time—but I had this supernatural encounter with Jesus, and I felt His love.

It talks about in Romans how the love of the Father fills our heart through the Holy Spirit. I remember reading that Scripture and being like, “I think that's what happened; that I knew about Jesus, but that night, it was like I met Him, and I experienced—more than just in an intellectual way—I experienced His love for me at a place where I felt the most broken and was very aware of my brokenness and sin.

You guys would know it. It was December 4th of 2009. That night changed my life. The way I would say it is, “It's like Jesus came into my dorm room, put a key in my heart, and said, ’I love you, and it's time to be who I made you to be’.” And Jesus became real to me. He became more than a sermon, more than my parents’ faith. I experienced His love for me.

And the way I'd say it now is like, when they asked—my friends asked—me, “Why do you do those things?” Now, I realize, I didn't know I was loved by God, and I was doing what I needed to do to be loved by the world. I didn’t know I was chosen, so I did what I needed to do to be chosen by people, by fans and sports. I didn't know I was accepted by Him, so I was looking for acceptance. I always say, “Everything we're looking for, He freely gives to us; and freely we have been given, so, freely, we give away.”

I think that night, it was like I started to understand that I was loved by Him; I was accepted by Him; I was chosen by Him. By His righteousness, I'm holy and blameless, and by faith in Him. The easiest way to say it was, “Jesus became real to me on that night.”

Ann: Let me ask you—I'm crying, of course, but you're still emotional about it as you're talking. You have tears in your eyes. How are you still emotional about it?

Cody: I think when I remember His depth of forgiveness and love and grace, that's what elicits an emotional response. I think sometimes, when you find Jesus for the first time, you’re [thinking], “This is amazing!” Then after 10 years, it gets cold. But I think when I'm in that place of first love—even now, sharing that story, I remember the depths which He saved me. I remember [thinking], “If anyone wrongs me ever, how could I not forgive them? He's forgiven me!” [Laughter]

So then, 10 years later, I was like, “I need that mindset again.” [Laughter] I think that, and then, I really believe in the Holy Spirit. He pours out the love of the Father into our hearts. Even Paul prays for the church in Ephesus: “Give us power to understand the depths of your love beyond even this intellectual place.” [Paraphrase of Ephesians 3:19] That's before he says, “He can do immeasurably more than all you can ask or imagine.” [Ephesians 3:20] But he talks about, “God, I pray for this church that they would understand this love that is greater than we can intellectually comprehend.” [Paraphrase of Ephesians 3:19]

Something happened where I intellectually knew the gospel, but through—I believe—His Spirit, I experienced it. I think that's why it's still emotional, because it was one of the most real, true things in the world. I experienced Jesus in a very real way. I knew of Him, I said the prayer, [and] I gave my life to Him; but then, I felt like I met Him that night.

Dave: Obviously, we weren't there in that dorm room that night, but you changed.

Ann: Oh, yes, you did.

Dave: I mean, we started as parents—again, this is our prayer since before you were born, that our sons would walk with Jesus. And he started showing all these signs that, man! You inspired us! [Laughter] Seriously.

Ann: That's what I was going to say: that fire for Jesus. It's like you got close to us, and we caught it.

Cody: Yes.

Ann: It reignited us and our passion for Jesus.

Dave: That was sort of the continuation, but also a little bit of the beginning of your journey. You're still—what, a sophomore?

Ann: At that time.

Dave: You have a couple more years in college?

Cory:  Sophomore, yes.

Dave: What did that look like?

Cody: Well, I think it looked like—it was interesting. Right after that, I read a book that you gave me by John Ortberg called If You Want to Walk on Water, Get Out of the Boat. And I read another book called Crazy Love by Francis Chan, and what it looked like for me was saying “yes” to anything I felt like Jesus was asking me to do and saying “no” to comfort.

I just said—because I was an athlete, I had the opportunity to speak. I remember you guys, when I was in high school (which I shouldn't have been speaking), you [said], ”Do you want to speak with us?” [I said], “Absolutely not!” But I remember, soon after that, you asked, “Hey, do you want to preach with me on Father's Day and do this joint teaching?” I was [thinking], “I don't really want to do this.” And I felt like the Lord was [saying], “You need to do it,” and I just started saying “yes.” I've said that to some people: “Courage, to me, is saying ‘yes’ to God in the face of fear.”

I just started saying, “Yes.” If it was leading a small group, I would say, “Yes.” If it was leading on a mission trip in college, it was, “Yes.” If there was an opportunity for me to speak, I just started saying “yes” to anything; any door the Lord would open up. And honestly, I wasn't pursuing open doors. I was just pursuing Him, and then doors would open, and I'd just say “yes” to it.

You’ve said this; and I've said it my whole life; “I’ve never asked to speak anywhere in my whole life.” But He's opened those doors. As a matter of fact, it's a red flag to me when people try to [Laughter], you know, speak everywhere.—

Dave: —I mean, we went to—

Cody: —So, I’d say that’s what happened. The rest of my time—I just started saying “yes” to Jesus.

Ann: So, I'm assuming your football career just exploded.

Cody: No, I got injured the next year.

Dave: I know! I want to say—

Cody: [Laughter] —but no.

Dave: —I want to say this before, because it wasn't like we just said, “Hey, Cody, do you want to speak at church?” You were speaking up at Central Michigan one night at—what was the ministry?

Cody: His House.

Dave: His House. So, we came up, and we sat in the back row with a couple hundred college kids. That was—you had a gift, and we were—you know, as parents, you pray that the gifts that your kids have will become known. And we sat in the back. The whole room knew, but we were like—

Ann: We were like, “Oh!”

Dave: “He's got a preaching gift!” I mean, it was—you were good and on fire. And  again, every parent thinks their kid is good. [Laughter]

Cody: Well, I got Mr. Miyagi, “Wax on. Wax off.” [Laughter] I saw it my whole life. [Laughter] But the real thing for me, it's like—you can preach but not have a message.

Dave: Right. You had the fire— 

Cody: —I encountered—

Dave: —and a message.

Cody: —I encountered Jesus. I remember the first time—I was thinking about it the other day—preparing the talk, which I first gave a joint talk with you on Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. “They didn't bend; they didn't bow; they didn't burn,” right?

Dave: There you go!

Cody: A great talk! So, that got us to talk, and we were talking to them, and I remember preparing, and I just pictured myself on my knees in my dorm room; and I just felt, “Share that.” And I remember being on my knees in front of probably 1,000 college students, sharing about encountering Jesus, and crying about what I just shared with you guys. It wasn't just like, “I want to speak.” It was like—actually, I didn't want to speak, but I think Jesus just started doing something in my heart and in my life that was really special.

Ann: Yes.

Cody: I remember, my senior year: we got that stadium I looked at. We did this thing called Fields of Faith through FCA, and we had about over 1,000 people, and I shared the gospel. I thought about this the other day: we asked people if they wanted to receive Jesus to come down on the field. There were probably—I don't know how many people, because everyone there came down. There were like 100-200 people.

I remember after—this is me: “That was a cool night at Kensington. There's like 12,000.” Now, I look back, and I'm like, “That's crazy!” The Lord did that! We worshipped in our college stadium and had one whole side filled, and the lyrics were on the Jumbotron, and we shared the gospel. And my room—

Ann: —did Kirk Cousins come over too?

Cody: —No, that was AJ, my roommate, who was a Holland Christian guy like Kirk. He was quarterback after him. He led worship at it—my roommate—[and] I spoke at it. And it was like a super special season, just with who the Lord orchestrated and brought to Central in that time.

But that's where I just felt like we just started saying “yes” to the Lord, not just in public places, but I just started—I remember, after I gave my life to the Lord, that next day, I opened my Bible for the first time myself. I knew the Bible, but I'd never really invested. I remember every night before I go to bed, I just started reading the Word.

I was in the Gospels, and Jesus spoke to the disciples. He said, “Will you follow Me?” And it says—I remember it said, “directly,” because it was one of the first times the Lord spoke to me through Scripture. It said, “They left everything and followed Him.” I just felt this invitation in my heart from Jesus say, “Will you follow Me?” And in my heart, I knew it meant, “Leave everything and follow Me.” [Emotional] I just remember saying “yes” by myself, in my dorm room.

So, I felt like that's the journey of following Jesus. We can make mistakes and pick things back up, but I was, in my heart, [saying],” Yes, Jesus! I'll go anywhere; whatever you want to do. I want to follow You.”

The first thing Jesus calls you to is Himself. That's what He did with the disciples. He wasn't [saying], “Hey, go do these great things.” He actually—if He would have told them everything they were going to do at the beginning, they might not have come. [Laughter] You know, with everything that was going to happen; but He was like, “Come and follow Me. Walk with Me and learn.”

That's why I was saying that discipleship was a demonstration. They saw what He did, and then, when He ascended and commissioned them and gave them the Holy Spirit, He said, “Go, do what I did. You saw the way I live My life. Now, go demonstrate it. As  the Father has sent Me, so I am sending you.” [Paraphrase of John 20:21]

I feel like that's—if you want to represent Jesus, you have to know Him. [Laughter] You have to study who He is in the Scriptures, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, let the Holy Spirit lead us into all truth. I think that was my journey. That's what following Jesus is!

I remember thinking, “I know what this looks, because I have a mom who got married when she was 19, and then dad, who was 22, who came from a way more painful, broken past than I did. But when they found Jesus. They said, ‘Lord we’ll go anywhere’.”

I heard those stories when I was in high school. I'd ask you guys. I'd get to know you. This is what following Jesus looks like: it might mean raising support for 15 years. Most Christian families—I’ve poured into young people, and they're [thinking], “My young people want to go raise support and go—? No! You go to college, and you get a job.”

My inheritance was: you live in radical faith, and you do whatever God calls you to do. So, when I said “yes” to the Lord, I knew what following Jesus looked like. It looked like going to Nebraska and raising support for 15 years; going to seminary; being the youngest chaplain in Lions’ history; starting a church and living in faith. That's the call of everyone to follow Jesus. We can minimize that, but it's absolute abandonment and surrender and saying “yes” to Him.

Ann: I'm wondering, as we close today and continue tomorrow, I'm thinking of parents who are [thinking]. “I long for that for my kids, and they're not there.”

Dave: Yes.

Ann: I'm just wondering, Cody, if you could close and pray for those parents, and for their kids?

Cody: Yes. The only thing I'd say, which you guys do, I'll pray—because I actually felt like, “Lord, what happened on that night?” I believe, in some ways, the prayers that you guys prayed over my life—Dad fasting every Friday. I know you [Mom] were praying in faith, but also in worry sometimes. [Laughter]

I felt like—I don't know how that works, but it opened something up for me to experience Jesus at the exact time I needed to, that would be so catalytic for my life. For me, there's places in my life—I've thought about even growing up, seeing you in the Word, and for my own kids. I'm [thinking], ”What do I want my legacy to be for my children?”

I want them to come down the stairs in the morning and see me in the Word of God. I want them to come down and see me on my knees, worshipping the Lord. I want them to have these memories seared in their mind of my pursuit of Him. I want them to see me bold with the gospel with a microphone, but also in a public place. I've had my kids pray with me over people. [Laughter] The girl who cuts my hair—we've prayed over them together, because I want to give them a demonstration, and I want them to see passion and zeal, even when I worship in church.

I don't want to be a person that's confined or not expressive, because I want them to see me going after Jesus in a tangible way. I'm demonstrating for them what it looks like to be all in, and to be consumed by Him, and be set ablaze for Him.

So, yes! Let me just pray:

“Father, we just pray that for anyone who is listening to this, and you can hear that and be like ‘Man, I feel shame. I'm failing.’ That is not the Lord. You can do this. We just speak that over your life as a parent: you can do this! If you feel like you're not, at any point, man, there is grace, and there is power to walk and live in a new way, God.

But we just pray for legacies. I pray that, just as my parents gave for me, we pray for godly legacy. We pray the blood of Jesus over generational lines, God, that people listening to this would start a new legacy. Some people listening to this, [thinking], “My life has been—” You would carry the baton of a legacy, Lord Jesus. But we just released grace [and] Your power, Your Resurrection power through your Holy Spirit to touch people, and You would speak life to them, God; You would speak encouragement to them, God; that You say, if You are for them, no one can be against them.

So, we pray over children, and we pray over marriages. We pray over families, that they would experience Your power; Your grace; Your vision for their life, Lord Jesus, and they'd experienced Jesus in a fresh way that's so real it would impact marriages, families, neighborhoods, regions, nations, Lord God. We know You are able to do, as we said, immeasurably more than all we could ask or imagine by Your power that is so able and at work within us. Jesus.

So, we pray Your grace over everyone listening, that they would experience You in fresh ways and experience Your love in greater ways, Lord Jesus. We love You. It's in Your name we pray. Amen.”

Shelby: Isn't it obvious how much Cody loves Jesus? And that kind of passion is so infectious. I love it! I love being around people like him.

I'm Shelby Abbott, and you've been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with their son, Cody Wilson, on FamilyLife Today. Cody is a worship leader, and if you want to check out more about his ministry; figure out what he's doing with revival nights and his prayer house and his worship evenings, you can head over to or check out the link in the Show Notes.

You know, it seems a little bit early, but it's not. We're actually already running a sale right now for the 2025 Love Like You Mean It® marriage cruise. It's happening from February 8th through the 15th in 2025. If you book now, you can save up to $400 per state room. I know that seems kind of far away, but it's a great gift to give to your spouse for your anniversary, or maybe a birthday coming up soon. Say, “Hey, we're going to go on a cruise next year. We're going to work on our marriage, and we're going to be intentional about walking with Jesus.”

I've been on the cruise. It's fabulous! It's fantastic! It's warm, in the middle of February, which I think is what everyone needs. So, if you want to learn more about the details of the cruise, you can head over to or check out the link in today's show notes.

I'm really excited because, coming up later on this week, we're going to have a guest who is a FamilyLife Today favorite. His name is Jeremiah Johnston. He's a PhD, and he's written a book about the proof of the resurrection. It's a study of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And not only is it a book; it comes with video access to learn more about how to teach this stuff to other people in your lives. If you're going to be a Bible study leader in your church or in your community, this would be a great resource for you to check out.

This book and the study is going to be our gift to you when you partner with us today.  You can get your copy with any donation by going online to and clicking on the “Donate Now” button at the top of the page. Or you could give us a call with your donation at 800-358-6329. Again, that number is 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY”. Or you can feel free to drop us a donation in the mail. Just send it to FamilyLife, 100 Lake Hart Drive. Orlando, FL 32832. And when you do, make sure you write a request in there for Body of Proof by Jeremiah Johnston. That's the study and the book that he has written. It's called Body of Proof.

Now, tomorrow, Cody is going to be back with Dave and Ann Wilson to talk about what happened when he went from being a successful football player to a worship leader, which seems kind of like a big jump. But Cody's going to talk about that tomorrow. We hope you'll join us.

On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

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