A story quite fresh in my mind (but the source where I got it from is quite vague in my mind, probably I heard it during school days and most probably a parable but has a deep impactful meaning). The Story goes like this:
Once Naarada asks Naarayana (Shri Vishnu Bhagwan) “Hey Lord, who is your most devoted devotee on the Earth?”
To this Lord Vishnu showed a poor farmer on the Earth and asked Naarada Muni to look at one day of his life and get back to him.
Naarada Muni, as ordered by Lord Vishnu went to him but a little bit confused. Lord Vishnu was with his blissful appearance and with a smile greeted Naarada Muni “so what did you find? Did you get to know why he is the most devoted devotee?”
To this Naarada Muni said “Dear Lord, I watched him an entire day, not even a fraction of second wasted but during the entire day he remembered you just four times. No extensive ritual, just took your name, that’s it. Then how is that you consider his devotion towards you to be the best? Please enlighten me Oh Lord!”
Lord Vishnu replied Naarada Muni “He remembered me when he woke up in the morning, expressed his gratitude for the life that has been awarded to him, for having woken up hale and hearty for yet another day and then he set out for his work. With all concentration he performed his duties, not even for a moment he squandered away time in thinking or talking ill of others. Never for a moment he cursed his fate for the hard work under unfavourable conditions he has to carry day in day and day out. He thanked me twice again when he set out to have his meal. His platter was not full with sumptuous dishes yet he didn’t go hungry and by offering his prayers he showed his gratitude yet again . And never did any hungry person went back empty handed from his door. He showed his compassion equally on both human beings and animals and shared whatever little he could afford. This is a mirror to his belief that God exists in every creature. And before ending his day he again with folded hands and utmost humility expressed his gratitude for ending yet another day on a happy note – no injuries, no illness, no hunger and to be alive.”
Lord Vishnu continued “Naarada the very soul of devotion is to be righteous, to walk the path shown by me and above all have compassion and benevolence. But what people tend to believe that following rituals blindly will please me. Rituals are for their benefit only. But people without a fail follow rituals because they fear my wrath for non performance but the deeds that actually could earn my ire are still a part of their routines. one puts forward a charade of worshipping me while his or her heart is full of malice for fellow human beings do you think I would be pleased? Chanting my name for name sake and then bad mouthing, back biting, gossiping about all the worldly matters – how shall I be delighted at this plight? People offer me offerings and sacrifices as if there’s anything that I don’t own in this entire cosmos but the ego, false pride, greed, lust, hatred, materialistic attachment they should sacrifice are treasured in their hearts which should be my resting place. It’s the kindness, humility, gratitude and righteousness that matters to me and define Devotion. And this farmer possessing all these traits is a true devotee of mine. He shall be blessed”.
**Note: If we demarcate the difference between God fearing & God loving, we will surely be devoted to the ways guided by the almighty**