FamilyLife Today® Podcast

That Time Worship Changed My Life: Cody Wilson

with Cody Wilson | March 26, 2024
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How do you know which dream to chase? Cody Wilson faced a crossroads when he left his dream of being a successful football player to pursue a career as a worship leader. His love for worship and his desire to share it with others led him to chase this new dream. If running after dreams is leaving you confused or unsatisfied, don't miss Cody's story.

  • 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.

What dream should you chase? Cody Wilson left football for worship leading, driven by his love for worship. If chasing dreams leaves you confused or unsatisfied, hear Cody’s story.

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That Time Worship Changed My Life: Cody Wilson

With Cody Wilson
March 26, 2024
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Cody: You don’t have to be a worship leader to be a worshiper, you know? I was even thinking of places where David is undignified, worshiping before the Lord, celebrating before the presence of the Lord. I was thinking, before David was king, before he was appointed, before he had a platform, he was a worshiper in the fields where no one was watching. [2 Samuel 6:22]

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, we’re back for another day with our youngest son. Cody Wilson is back in the studio!

Ann: We ended yesterday talking about your sophomore year in college. You were top ten in the nation in receiving. You had this incredible football career, and, then, in the midst of that, you were empty and you ended up surrendering everything. You had, really, kind of a radical—you knew Jesus, you were saved but—

Cody: —I just had an encounter with Jesus.

Ann: —yes—

Dave: —yes.

Ann: —which changed your whole life. You started saying “yes” to Him whenever He asked you to do anything.

Cody: Yes, yes.

Dave: Today, we are going to talk about—you’ve done something recently, in terms of writing worship music; originals.

Cody: Yes.

Dave: But that is sort of a continuation of a journey that happened way back in college. Again, obviously, worship was part of your life, because it’s a lifestyle but, also, worship music and singing was a big part of your life, because the first sermon you ever did at our church, you ended up singing. It was in you.

And then you go to a conference, right? Is that where this was sort of birthed?

Cody: Well, honestly—it was funny, my sophomore year I really encountered the Lord, but my freshman year, Spring Break—I got invited to go on a Spring Break Mission trip to Atlanta, Georgia. We were going down there to work in the inner city with some ministries down there. I have a friend who moved to Atlanta, probably five or six years prior, and she invited me to attend this worship night. I’d never really been to a full-on worship night; I don’t know what I’m going to.

I tell my group, “I’m going to this thing.” They said I could go, because we are in the van; you know, we’re in the white vans. And the whole group goes. We go to this thing; I have no idea what we’re going to, but I end up in a tabernacle in Atlanta with thousands of people for a CD release party—I don’t even know what that is—by a movement, not a church yet, called Passion City. I had no idea who they were.

So, I go into this thing and step into this room, and the room is buzzing. It’s alive. I don’t know who is leading worship—now, I know it was David Crowder, Chris Tomlin, and Kristian Stanfill. On this album, there were songs called Our God. The album was called Awakening. How He Loves was on there. I didn’t know any of the songs; so, I’m in this room, and I’m thinking, “It’s alive.”

I left the night—I would not have said God spoke to me, but I had two thoughts that night; now I know [they] were God’s voice and that I’ve never forgotten: the first one, there was a guy—I was in the second row. There was the floor, and then there were three rows. And there was this guy, and he’s worshiping so passionately, he was punching his hands. [Laughter] And I remember thinking, “I didn’t even know you could punch your hands.”

Dave: Like this? [Punching his own hands]

Cody: Yes, he was punching.

I have this thought, and I know it’s the Lord. He just says, in kindness and not in condemnation, “Why don’t you worship me like that?” I remember thinking, “I don’t even know what this is.” But the room felt alive! Now, I know it was the presence of God. There was palpable energy. And then I remember Louie got on stage, and I had no idea who Louie Giglio is. He starts teaching, and the keys are going while he’s teaching. They’re playing a pad, which I know now; but I remember thinking, “This is awesome. What is this?” [Laughter] I always preach with a pad now. It’s great! [Laughter] You know, you’ve got the music going—

Dave: —preaching’s better when there’s music underneath.

Cody: Yes, it helps.

Dave: You need help.

Cody: But it was like this moment! I don’t even remember what he said, but I remember, Louie came on stage and, for some reason, I pictured myself understanding what he was saying, and I could see all these people. I won’t say exactly what the thought that went through my mind was, but the summary was, “This is what you are supposed to do with your life.”

And I’ll tell you, if you’d asked me after that night, “How was it?” I would have said, “It was cool.” [Laughter] I was eighteen, and I’ve never forgotten that.

I remember that night, they were handing out the CD’s; you could buy them (we don’t do CD’s). And so, for the rest of the trip, we just put it in the white van. They had this livestream thing for young adults the next night. We went the next night. I might be wrong, but I remember, it was like, “Song three was Our God!” So, you know, back then, you didn’t know what the song was called, and you couldn’t get chord charts. So, our buddy, AJ, starts learning all the songs by listening to it, playing acoustic. We just started listening to worship music.

I kind of had this journey, but that’s where, like I said, the next year, I had this encounter, and I was all in. That was my first exposure to worship music in that kind of setting. We’d worship at Kensington [Church], but it was a different experience in this amphitheater with this album. Honestly, these global worship leaders that were a part of it—Matt Redman was a part of it back then. I didn’t know who any of them were.

I remember, after, we talked to Chris Tomlin on the floor—which now, I think, “How did that even happen? How was he available?” I had no idea who he was at the time.

We started listening to it, and I’ve never forgotten what I felt the Lord speak to me that night. When you study Scripture, like when I was teaching on Revelation 4, no one tells them to worship. It’s the response. I remember going to church after having this encounter with Jesus and I hadn’t answered that question, “Why didn’t you worship me like this?” I didn’t know He was worthy.

And after I encountered Him and saw Him—that’s where even the creatures worship Him. They have eyes all over them; they see Jesus, and when they see Him, they cry out. Their response is, “Holy, Holy, Holy.” When the elders see Him, they throw their crowns. What’s the central point of heaven? It’s Jesus. What should be the central point of the church on earth? It’s Jesus. Not a message, not even a song. It is Jesus.

We always say, when we are creating worship culture, we aren’t teaching people how to worship; we’re teaching people Who to worship, because you were created to worship. It’s in your DNA. You see it at sporting events. We know how to adore things. What is worship? It’s ascribing worth to something. We know how to ascribe worth to things. It could be a TV show. You know how to worship, but do you know Who to worship and Who is worthy of your worship?

And so, I think, when I saw them, when they see Him in heaven, the response is worship. When the woman with the alabaster jar—when they see Jesus, what is the response? Everything. Jesus said, “She’ll be remembered forever for this.” The disciples thought this could have been given to the poor—the wages, the perfume that was poured on Him. “She’ll be remembered forever for this.” [Matthew 26: 6-13]

It moved Jesus—her response. Why? Because they saw Jesus rightly, and when you see Jesus rightly, the response is radical worship. So, I always say, we aren’t trying to create cultures of worship, we’re trying to create cultures that behold the Lamb of God. As you behold the Lamb of God, your response is worship, which is more than the song you are singing, it’s the life you are living. It should be costly; it should be pure. This is our spiritual act of worship, that we offer our bodies as living sacrifices. [Romans 12:1]

That’s what happens: when you see Him, you surrender to Him. I think that, for me, within that worship music, it started to breathe life into my soul. It started to change me. I stopped listening to any other music. I still don’t listen to any other music! Not that I think it’s wrong, I just don’t have a desire. Other people do; that’s totally great. I just want to worship, you know? Worship music started becoming the soundtrack of my spiritual life in a lot of ways.

Dave: In many ways, when you experienced that in college, and then you would come home, like mom said, it was contagious. It spilled all over, especially me. You ignited a dormant part of my soul with worship music, because it was a part of me in college.

Then, I got involved in starting a church for unchurched men, and you don’t do worship music because that might offend them, and they won’t understand it. “So, do music that they’ll connect with.” We did that for ten years. And then you came, and it was like God ignited my soul. I could grab my guitar right now and start singing a song that you and I sang together. All I know is, I came on fire.

Ann: Oh, you totally did. So did I!

Dave: People at Kensington, our church, starting coming up to me and saying, “Your sermons are so much better now. What—?”

Ann and Cody: [Laughter]

Dave: I was offended. “What do you mean? weren’t they good before?” But there was a passion and an energy coming out of my soul that was ignited from your journey with worship—to ours.

Ann: Well, really, we were probably dry, you know? We had teenage kids; we were all over the place; we’re busy; we’re traveling. I think it reignited our passion and love for Jesus.

Dave: Yes.

Ann: And there is something about, when that becomes your soundtrack that you are listening to all the time, your heart becomes worshipful, in and out of every day. I got to the point where I thought, “I need this. I need to play this.” Especially when you are feeling distant, or you are down, or you're worried, it’s a reminder, because a lot of the worship is just Scripture. So, it’s a reminder of who God is and how capable He is.

Dave: I was up here, right where we’re sitting right now, on our studio—our home studio. I grabbed the guitar one day in the morning. It was during Covid, actually, so the house was empty, and we’re doing everything from our homes—and I sang, “Bless the Lord, O my soul,” and mom comes running up the stairs and says, “Oh, are we worshiping right now?” [Laughter]

Ann: Are we worshiping?

Dave: “Are we singing?” I was wanting to have my little private moment with God, but it was this whole house is going to be—“Let’s worship.”

Cody: That is so funny.

Ann: You’re on fire for Jesus, but you’re still playing football. Then, you get a chance to play pro football. Did you think, “I’m going to bring Jesus into this?” What were you thinking about that? Were you still passionate about football?

Cody: I would say, in general, my passion for Jesus became my greatest passion. I still love football. I’ve been around you guys. You guys work with athletes: “You have a platform. Use your platform.”

It’s interesting, when you play high school football, the relational dynamic is so high. When you go to college, it takes a few years, and you get this relational dynamic. When you get in the NFL, relational dynamics are not that high. Relationships a lot of times don’t bring joy, so, honestly, it wasn’t quite as enjoyable. I started to keep getting hurt, and devotion, you want to talk about devotion! If you want to be great at that level, it takes an uncommon level of devotion.

In some ways, my football career ended. Now, I look back and think, “I probably should have enjoyed it more,” but I was excited, because I felt this call to full-time vocational ministry.

Ann: When you were done?

Cody: When I was done. I was ready for the next chapter. I’d played football since I was eight. I was twenty-three. It didn’t end the way I wanted. It ended in injury. It could have gone differently in a lot of ways; but now, I look back and think, “Man, that was hard.” At the time, I mourned; but I was also excited to do something different with my life than I’d done since I was eight years old.

Ann: But, Cody, who was mourning the most?

Dave: [Laughter]

Cody: Well, I had to skip church the Sunday I got hurt and released, because I knew my dad would be mourning on stage. I thought, “I don’t need to hear about this from him.” You know?

Dave: I mean, at the time, it was hard to understand God’s plan, because you kept getting hurt.

Cody: Yes; it was a bummer.

Dave: Obviously, you are able to walk. It wasn’t life threatening, but it was like, “If you can’t play, you can’t play.” I was sort of mad at God. I thought, “Come on! If You don’t want him to make it, have him get cut rather than get hurt.” Looking back now, God had a different plan.

Ann: Yes.

Dave: An unbelievable plan.

Cody: Yes, making a few million dollars wouldn’t have been a bad idea—

Dave: —that would have been nice.

Cody: —but it seems like He always took me the hard route to develop my character more. I think I was excited. I was thinking back, and thinking, “My dad was a great musician.” I remember grabbing one of his guitars and just started worshiping in my—at that time, in my apartment—my house I lived in with my roommates. I wasn’t planning on being a worship leader. I rarely lead worship now; but you don’t have to be a worship leader to be a worshiper.

Dave: Right.

Cody: I was even thinking of—I shared some moments of worship in the Scripture: Revelation 4, the throne room worship; these alabaster jar moments; these places where David is undignified worshiping before the Lord, celebrating the presence of the Lord. And I was thinking, you know, before David he was king, before he was appointed, before he had a platform, he was a worshiper—

Dave: —yes.

Cody: —in the fields when no one was watching. I think, a lot of times, even in church and especially in ministry, we think, “Oh, I want the platform,” but you better make sure you’re a worshiper before you get the platform, or you’ll become a worshiper of the platform.

Dave: Oh.

Cody: We went and did the prayer house, and I did these prayer sets and, for some people—

Ann: —explain that a little bit. What’s a prayer house?

Cody: For us, we really just create a place and atmosphere of worship. We say this isn’t about a song; it’s not about hearing a message. We created this space for you to encounter Jesus.

Dave: Yes.

Cody: We create places of worship and prayer and try to create an atmosphere for people and say, “You can worship with us. You can read the Word of God; you can journal; you can listen; you can just rest.” So, that’s what we do. A lot of times, sometimes at church it is like we are going to play this song, and then we are going to play this song, and then we are going to play this song. We tell our worship leader, “Just worship the Lord, follow the leading of the Holy Spirit.”

For me, it’s funny; you can have worship leaders come in and say, “You want me to go for an hour?” And there are some people, the first time they come in, they play eight straight songs and now it’s like, “I’ll play one song for an hour,” because it’s not about leading the room, it’s about ministering to Him.

Ann: It’s like background music, too.

Cody: Yes, people get lost in it, and you can feel it. Sometimes, people stand up because God is doing something special. I remember, for me, I went in there and thought, “This is all I used to do in my dorm room.” I just worshiped Him. It wasn’t about singing someone else’s song; it was about me pouring out my heart. The Hebrew word for praise is the “spontaneous song of the heart.” I became a worshipper. You don’t have to be a worship leader to be a worshipper.

Dave: You come into our house and say, “Hey,” and you grab a guitar and say, “I just wrote this.” A song. And I’m thinking, “You’re writing songs?” And they were good! [Laughter]

Cody: Well, I don’t know if they were great at first, but they were from my heart.

Dave: But lyrically, they were biblical. Musically, they were singable. I thought, “Wow, I wonder where that’s going to go.”

Cody: I think I was so moved by the Lord, but also by worship music. The Holy Spirit hovered over the earth. I said, “The Holy Spirit hovers over creation, not imitation.” I’m just not an imitator, I’m a pioneer kind of guy. I love singing other’s songs to the Lord, but I want to sing my own song.

It says all the time in Scripture, “Sing a new song unto the Lord.” [Psalm 96] It’s not about how many people are listening; it’s about singing a new song unto the Lord. Why? Because we’re describing a new aspect of His nature as we discover it for ourselves. New songs bring us into new seasons; they bring us into new revelation.

In our movement, I call it “the sound of the Spirit.” Even our album, the first one, I set up the night, talking about this moment I had at Passion, I felt this thing like the sound of the Spirit, which, n Acts 2, you hear the sound of the Spirit fill the upper room.

As I thought about it, for us—this album to me is the sound and the lyrics of what the Holy Spirit has been doing in our ministry since we started over the last year. It's a way of canonizing the movement of God in your movement.

I’ve just really felt this place of when you are writing songs (even not just worship songs), you’re kind of giving language to the emotions you're experiencing, to the season you’re in; and I think there’s something powerful about songs and carrying songs. I’m sure you have songs that minister to you, or that you sang to the Lord when you were following Him when you were twenty five years old, that you could sing now and it brings you right back.

Dave: Oh, yes.

Ann: It’s David writing the Psalms, which are songs. Each one, you can tell where he’s been or what he’s feeling, what he’s going through.

Cody: Yes.

Ann: It’s exactly what you’re saying.

Dave: Well, why don’t you play us one or two? They’re on the album that came out in—?

Cody: It came out September 29, and our heart has been in Exodus 3. Moses encounters the burning bush, and he’s on holy ground. He is in the presence of God; and when he’s in the presence of God, three things happen: He has revelation of who God is as the great I AM, he remembers who he was always created to be, and he’s commissioned into his destiny.

And I believe that is what happened to me when I was at Passion. I was in the presence of God, I saw God in a fresh way, He spoke to me about who I was created to be, and He commissioned me into my destiny. So, for us, when we host the presence of Godm and we worship Him and create environments for people to experience His presence, I believe they see Him with fresh eyes, they see themselves with His eyes, and they’re commissioned into their purpose and destiny from that place. I’m believing that’s what’s going to happen as we are releasing these songs.

Dave: Which one do you like?

Cody: One of them that’s really important is called Come Alive, which has really been for us—we called the album that, because for a lot of us, we’ve come alive in fresh ways. People who wrote these songs coming out of seasons of suicide, coming out of seasons of broken relationships, coming into fresh awakening with Jesus.

Actually, the first prayer set we ever had as a movement, my mom was there. It was me and all the praying women. [Laughter] I grabbed a guitar, and I said, “I’m just going to worship.” About halfway through the set, I just took a second and had this thought, “God, what are You singing over the room right now?” And I felt this lyric came into my mind: “I see revival rise like the sun.” It was a sunrise season as a new movement. I started singing that and then, all these other lyrics came out.

It was super special for us. We went out and did a songwriting camp. I brought this song out with some of our other writers. I said, “This is very special to me. It’s from the first prayer set we ever had as a movement, called Come Alive.” My buddy, John, was there. He really brought these lyrics.

Our movement is called Living Army from Ezekiel 37, this place of dry bones becoming living armies. They become bones, and then Ezekial prophesies—the breath, which is the Holy Spirit. When we see breath in the Scripture, breath enters Adam and Eve; that’s when they come alive. You see Acts 2; when is the church birthed? When the Holy Spirit comes into them. And so, in Ezekial, the bodies were there, and He says, “Prophesy the breath,” because they weren’t living yet. It was the breath of the Holy Spirit that comes in and then, life comes.

This song is really about that. I believe it’s a song to the body of Christ, but also to us individually, saying, “Come Alive in the name of Jesus.” I found the bridge, which is the spontaneous song that came out of the first prayer set we ever had as a ministry if you want to hear it.

[Come Alive playing]

Cody: There it is.

Ann: That’s so cool to hear, because I’m thinking about that prayer time, and where I was when you said, “Mom, grab your phone and record this.” [Laughter]

Cody: I had to stop it. I felt something was special. I felt bad. I couldn’t get my phone out, and so, I yelled—and they’re all praying: “Mom! Record it! I don’t want to lose it.” They changed the melody, but—

Ann: —it’s good.

Cody: —and tweaked it a little bit.

Dave: And it becomes the signature song of your first album.

Cody: Yes, pretty cool.

Dave: That’s amazing.

Cody: My individual journey starting a ministry was a place of coming alive. There’s a lyric in there, which maybe to some people, it seems controversial, but John wrote it. He’s pretty open about struggling with suicide[al thoughts]. He wrote the verses of the song, and one of them is, “the season of depression’s over, He’s awakening new dreams.” And that was a personal lyric for him, to say, “Hey! This season’s done in my life,” and he’s found a lot of freedom in those places—through counseling, through Jesus, through other things.

To us, they’re personal songs. When I hear that song, no one else will think of it—I’ll think of the first prayer set that we ever had, and I’ll think of the beginning of our ministry. How cool of the Lord! I felt like it was His song that He gave us.

But, for me, even if it’s ten people or ten million, I’ll listen to it twenty years from now, even with my son, Bryce, and say, “Let me tell you this story of this bridge right here and what the Lord did.”

Dave: Yes.

Cody: And I’ll know. Other people might not knowm but I thought that as soon as it went on Apple Music: “I’ll be able to remember the faithfulness of God in this season.”

Twenty-five years from now, I can share that story; that’s inheritance, that’s legacy for families. You know what I mean? That”s really beautiful and powerful. And hopefully, one day, if the Lord leads it, and if it’s what they want to do, my kids can be singing these songs, you know? And that’s biblical to me! Generations passing these songs and remembering these stones in lyrical form to say, “This is who God is to us.”

Dave: Yes.

Cody: “This is what God does.” It’s really beautiful.

Shelby: There’s just something about music that connects with our hearts. I really feel that in ways. I can hear a message, and then hear it sung in a beautiful song, and it just hits differently. It’s so fun to hear Cody’s passion for songwriting and passing that down to the next generation, to his son. It’s just been beautiful to hear his conversation today with his parents, Dave and Ann Wilson.

I’m Shelby Abbott, and you’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with their son, Cody Wilson, on FamilyLife Today. If you want to learn more about Cody’s ministry, you can check out, which is his special site, or you can look for the link to that in the show notes.

One of the things I love about FamilyLife Today is that we are able to talk to a lot of professionals about really important subjects; learn from them, hear how they process stuff. And Jeremiah Johnston is one of those people. He’s going to be on starting tomorrow through the end of the week. Jeremiah has written a book called Body of Proof. It’s a Bible study book that has video access as well, to help you study the resurrection of Jesus. So, if you’re thinking about leading a Bible study, either in your church or in your community, this would be a fantastic resource for you.

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Just make sure, if you send us something, to request Jeremiah Johnston’s Body of Proof, and we’ll make sure we get that to you. And, as I said, Jeremiah Johnston is going to be here tomorrow to talk about the importance of evidence and proof in matters of faith, specifically focusing on the resurrection of Jesus Christ (a perfect time to talk about that as Easter is coming up). Jeremiah’s going to be here tomorrow with Dave and Ann Wilson to talk about just that. 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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