The way to combat the Second Enemy.
The devil more commonly deceives spiritual persons under the appearance of good rather than evil. The devil knows that spiritual persons will not reach out and choose an obvious evil. “Thus you should always be suspicious of what appears good, especially when not obliged by obedience.”
St. John of the Cross wants us to do the right thing and in order to be safe in such a matter he counsels souls in three ways regarding the wiles and deceits of the devil.
First, he counsels that those striving for perfection should never take upon themselves, without the command of obedience, “any work – apart from the obligations of your state – however good and full of charity it may seem, whether for yourself or for anyone else inside or outside the house.” We should always strive to be obedient to our duties that correspond to our state in life.
Obedience is what is being asked; in little things as well as big. To neglect being governed by obedience in all things you will soon find yourself in error. The devil loves to deceive in this way by playing on our pride, you know, I am right!
The second counsel is on a matter that many fall into to their own loss and harm. It is “that you always look on the superior as though on God, no matter who he happens to be, for he takes God’s place.” This can apply to any one who is regarded as our superior: a boss, spouse, religious superior, bishop, or priest. To dwell on their character flaws, behavior, ability or their methods will do you harm because you will change your obedience from being motivated by visible (human) traits of the superior and not be basing your obedience on the invisible God whom you serve.
The devil can induce us to dwell on the things that others do to annoy us or to let their good qualities please us and make us happy. He does this because it interferes with our obedience.
The third counsel is “that you ever seek with all your heart to humble yourself in word and in deed, rejoicing in the good of others as if it were your own, desiring that they be given precedence over you in all things; and this you should do wholeheartedly.” This is a good practice and will increase charity within our soul. Always remember that the devil’s aim is to cool charity in souls and in this way wins them over.Overcome evil with good and “try to practice this more with those who least attract you.”
Finally, “ever prefer to be taught by all rather than desire to teach even the least of all.”
God wants obedience more than sacrifice (1 Sam 15:22)
(Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, ICS Publications, The Precautions)