The Dark Room


The Dark Room
by Randall Popham
There’s a growing interest among young adults who were born after the invention of the digital camera. They are quickly finding an interest in developing their own film in a dark room. In the rush to have instant photography and to see the image we just shot with our camera, we’ve left behind a tedious but beautiful process of watching an anticipated image appear before our eyes in a dark room.

There’s something wonderful about snapping a photo and then working with your hands to develop your own picture. I know. I spent some time in a dark room in college at North Greenville University where I studied Fine Arts and Religion. I remember the hours spent shooting the perfect picture and not knowing if you actually captured the image you wanted. After taking the picture, you had to take special care of the film so that you didn’t expose it to light. After that, you removed the film in a dark room that was lit only by a small red bulb. The film was then transferred onto photo paper and then carefully submerged into the right mix of photography chemicals. After placing the image in the pan, you swirled the chemicals over the paper until the magical moment happened. Then, after a few moments and all the hard work, the long awaited image would appear and the next Ansell Adams was born. Processing film in a dark room is a lot of hard work for just one picture. It takes lots of time and resources to simply see one image.

Failure is much like the process of developing film in a dark room. Just as an image on film must go through the tedious and costly process of a dark room for its image to be exposed, God allows us to go through the darkness of failure to bring out his image in us. God knows what he wants to make of you and he’s working your failures to develop his image in you. You see, God has a purpose for your failure. Failure is one of the means by which God reveals his image in you. You might only become the person God wants you to become because of the failure you are facing today. The thing God wants you to learn might only be learned through today’s disappointment.

Failure is often so unpleasant we want to quickly move on, but doing so hinders the process of what God desires to do in us. When we fail we want to hurry through our “darkroom.” But, just like developing film, you can’t rush the process or you won’t get the right image. If you remove the image from the chemical bath too soon, your photo will not fully develop and you’ll be left with an image that lacks depth and beauty.

You’re in the dark room for a reason. God wants to develop something in you. It’s something beautiful and eternal. The Bible says,
“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”
 2 Cor 4:17 (NIV) Notice the many powerful things this verse says about your troubles.
First it says – 

Your troubles are momentary.

Your failure won’t last forever. When you are in the dark room it can seem you’ll never see the light of day again. But, just as the photograph is only in the dark room for a short period you too are only this dark period for a short season. There is an end and there will be a day when you look back and think, “That went by faster than I imagined.” Remember God is working to develop something in you and when it is complete the season will be over.
It also says – 

Your failures are accomplishing something for you. When we experience failure we think we are taking a step back but God has a different view. God sees a setback as a setup for comeback. The verse says that God is accomplishing something for YOU.

Hear that again – God has something for YOU. It’s something that can only be learned through failure. It’s something you will never have unless you fail. Instead of viewing your troubles as a setback, start to view them as God wanting to accomplish something for you.
Sometimes failure is the very thing God desires for you. Read that again. Let that soak in. 


That’s hard for us to imagine in our world of Name-It-Claim-It theology. It’s as if God is the kind, rich, white-bearded Grandpa in the sky waiting to give us the gifts we desire. That type of thinking says – if you pray the right way, have enough faith and do the right things, then God will give you what you want. It has left many people broken and feeling hopeless when their efforts were not meet with success.

There’s a common lie that God wants to give you success. At the root of that lie is the belief, “If God is for me, I will be successful.” The problem is in the way we define success. God’s definition of success and our definition of success don’t always match up.

Success in God’s book isn’t you achieving your goals, dreams and agendas. Success in God’s book is the development of his character and glory in you. He desires to see you become more like him in your thoughts, words and actions. Failure is a great developer of character. You can be sure God will use the darkness of your failure to develop his character and glory in you.

The verse also reminds us – 
The growth God is doing through your failure far outweighs your current discomfort. 
The darkness is never pleasant but it has a purpose. God is developing something greater in you. In most of our lives we can look back and see that our greatest growth usually came as a result of failure. It’s through failure that God usually teaches us the most about ourselves and about him. We make a mistake when we believe God is only at work in our lives when we have success. He is also just as much at work when we experience failure. Barbara Duguid emphasizes this in her book 
Extravagant Grace: God’s Glory Displayed in our Weakness. She says, “It is a radical and almost frightening thought to see that God is actually as much at work in our worst moments of sin and defeat as he is in our best moments of shining obedience.”
The work God is doing in you through your failure will be greater than the pain, fear and doubt you are experiencing.

Should we then attempt to fail on purpose? No. The “darkroom” process of learning through failure takes patience and is never easy. It would be best if we just learned the lesson God wants us to learn without all the pain, but sometimes the only way we’ll get it is if God takes us through the darkness. That means we should strain toward becoming more like him in our thoughts and actions everyday and if we fail we can be sure God will still use it for our good.

Your failure has purpose and God is developing something in you. In our success and performance driven culture it’s hard to understand that failure may be the thing God desires for you. He is working and he’s taking his time to get the perfect image. If you want to see the end result of your growth, then don’t waste your pain. Slow down. Sit a while in the dark room and start to develop. Start by asking God some questions. Start with these…

  • God why am I going through this failure?
  • God how are you using this failure for my good?
  • God what do you want to say to me about my failure?
  • God what actions and beliefs are you wanting to change in me so I can         become more like you?

Pastor Randall