Many people are abandoning formalized religions while saying that the external rituals are simply missing any inner spirit or force, that they are simply empty and do not get to the heart of the matter. There is a keen insight here that is useful for those who wish to practice the yoga of devotion. It is in fact similar to the way Sri Krishna explained to Arjuna that it is not the outer form of the work that matters for the yoga of action, but the inner spirit with which it is being done. This same principle applies to the yoga of devotion.
Bhakti Yoga should arise from the heart, from the psychic being that aspires and yearns for a connection with the personal form of the Divine. When it is naturally active it has an intensity and focus that breaks through the barriers of the external consciousness and brings about the relation the seeker desires. If done without that inner living devotional energy, it becomes a meaningless ritual devoid of force or any ability to bring about a change of consciousness.
That is not to imply that all external forms of worship are useless, however. To the extent that it is expressing through the outer physical body and vital nature the adoration and love of the Divine by the psychic entity, it can help to bridge the gap from the inner to the outer nature and then possesses a force of realisation that goes beyond the purely subjective experience.
Sri Aurobindo observes: “Prayer and meditation count for so much in yoga. But the prayer must well up from the heart on a crest of emotion or aspiration, the Japa or meditation come in a live push carrying the joy or the light of the thing in it. If done mechanically and merely as a thing that ought to be done (stern grim duty!), it must tend towards want of interest and dryness and so be ineffective….”
“What is meant by bahyapuja [external worship]? If it is purely external, then of course it is the lowest form; but if done with the true consciousness, it can bring the greatest possible completeness to the adoration by allowing the body and the most external consciousness to share in the spirit and act of worship.”
“… the deeper the emotion, the more intense the Bhakti, the greater is the force for realisation and transformation. It is oftenest through intensity of emotion that the psychic being awakes and there is an opening of the inner doors to the Divine.”
Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter V Growth of Consciousness, Means and Methods, pg. 102