Football is not my identity. I could wake up tomorrow, walk down the stairs, tear my ACL and never play football again. No, I find my identity in Jesus Christ.
Ever since I can remember I had two parents who believed in Jesus Christ. They didn’t force my faith in Christ; instead they told me that there’s a man named Jesus who died on the cross for our sins, who loves me. This truth is something that was instilled in me from a young age and I’m so grateful for that.
Growing up, I went to Awana (a worldwide youth ministry), a local youth group, Sunday school and church. Being around the stories of Jesus was something I was always familiar with, but honestly, I memorized 10-15 verses each week because I went home with one slice of pizza for each verse I knew. So you better believe I memorized as many as I could!
I knew Jesus and followed Him, but I never talked to others about Him. I never opened the Bible. I did what I thought were the “requirements” for Christianity.
When I went to Kansas State, I was blessed with a few great mentors, one of which was Morgan Burns, the kick returner. When the rest of us couldn’t wait to get out of the freshman dorms, Morgan stayed there for five years. When I asked him why he was still there as a fifth-year senior on a full scholarship, he said, “I know what it’s like to come in as a freshman. I am a believer in Jesus Christ and I think I can have an impact on these men.”
Morgan knew who he was in Christ. When he was offered an NFL position, able to make hundreds of thousands of dollars for his family, he turned it down. Happy enough to know he was capable of it, he told the league that his mission in life was to be a missionary for God. Morgan set the groundwork for my faith.
One day, we were talking about Jesus and I said that I believed in Him but I’d never talked to Him, and I was pretty sure He’d never talked to me. Morgan told me about the power of God’s Word and how when we open the Bible, Jesus speaks to us and we can hear Him, and then talk back to Him. As a kid, I didn’t realize the meaning behind those verses, but suddenly they became alive.
From that point on, every time I opened the Bible, whether in good times or in bad, God always found a way to speak to me and provide guidance for my life. It was then that I started to get to know Jesus. And as I did, I started constructing who Dalton Risner was. Before that, I was a football player, and that was it. Now, I find my identity in Jesus Christ.
Proverbs 16:9 says, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.” This is my favorite verse. As humans, we can plan as much as we want to, but the Lord has our steps established already. Even if things happen that are bad, they happen for a reason. God turns every situation into good and puts you on a new path.
I knew if I ever made it to the NFL, I’d use that platform for good, not for myself. I’m 6-foot-5, 300 lbs., and I didn’t work hard for that. I worked hard to maintain my body and strength to get to where I’m at and so many people helped me, but I was blessed with that size. I truly believe I was given this size to play NFL football. God didn’t say, “I want to give you this body to be a great rockstar.” He said, “I want you to be under one of the greatest microscopes in the world: American football, kids looking up to you. And I want you to use that to glorify Me.”
I went through a lot of personal growth during my five years in college because I was talking to Jesus. I figured out my path in life and who I wanted to be. But at the end of my career at Kansas State, I wondered, “Will people accept my Christian faith? Is it going to be OK to talk like this in an NFL locker room?” I was warned that not all NFL teams value faith.
Every team I met with knew how outspoken I was in my faith, and I knew that if I were asked about my faith, I’d speak honestly. If a team didn’t want me to be outspoken about Jesus, I’d rather not go to that team, and I did run into such a situation. But I wanted to go to a team that supports who I am. I went in headfirst and knew that if I did anything that wasn’t OK, I’d hear about it. But to this day, I’ve never been told I can’t talk about my faith, which I do every day.
God is the Almighty. Any time we might be going off track, He has a funny way of bringing us right back to Him, no matter how many times it takes. When things are going really well for me in life, I tend to not pray or lean on God as much, but I’m working on that. We all go straight to praying when things go bad, but I want to pray just as much every day, even when things are going well. I want to continue to grow in my unique one-on-one relationship with Him.
Whether people like what I say or not, I want to be real. I want to be who God made me to be and who He calls me to be.
— Dalton Risner, Denver Broncos offensive lineman
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