Yesterday, I had the misfortune to watch a sermon on prayer from a self-proclaimed prayer expert. In it he stated that Jesus "needed" to pray because the Holy Spirit would go out from Jesus during His ministry to the people. So Jesus had to pray in order to be "refilled" with the Holy Spirit. There are a number of problems with this statement, and they all reflect on essential Christian doctrines.
First, and foremost, the teaching muddles the two natures of Jesus. Jesus has two natures, both equal. He was both divine and human. This teaching makes Jesus more human than divine. Jesus, as God, was dependent on nothing in order to accomplish His ministry. He would accomplish God the Father's will in a perfect manner. On the other hand, Jesus, in His human nature needed prayer. All one has to do is read the passionate pleas of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane to the Father to see just how weak, even perfect, flesh is (Matthew 26).
The dual natures of Jesus is a very fine line to walk. Nudge yourself one way or the other, and you are in heresy. Sadly, I have heard this pastor so many times to know that he has a diminished view of the divinity of Jesus. And, yes, that makes this pastor a heretic. I take no joy in making this judgement. To the contrary I am deeply grieved. This pastor believes in the power of prayer so much that it has become a legalistic aspect of his life. This pastor has made statements such as, "If you pray, you stay. If you fast, you last." Of course, this pastor is Arminian to the point of near Pelagianism. Arminianism is not as much of a problem with me as Pelagianism is. And I hope and pray that this pastor will prayerfully and humbly reconsider his error and repent before he leads the flock God entrusted him with completely astray.
Second, this pastor's teaching makes Jesus life out to be an example for us to follow. The reason why this does not work is because Jesus was perfect, and we are imperfect. Fallen creatures as we are are incapable of following a perfect example perfectly, which is what obedience is. The only thing that makes Jesus prayer life something to follow is the fact that we now have grace when we fail to pray consistently.
I used to beat myself up over my inconsistent prayer life, well, inconsistent when compared to this super-pastor's prayer life. Up early every morning to pray for at least an hour. I had (and still have) a hard time getting up early. I don't function well before the sun comes up. I do function well later in the day, and found that time to be the best time for me to pray. But that is not good enough. In order to be a super Christian, I had to get up at five A.M and pray only then. This is nothing but law. Law that no one can obey.
Having said the above, I need to clarify somethings. First, Jesus' prayer life is an example. It is an example to us, sinful and fallen creatures, of the necessity of prayer. Jesus was a perfect man, and at the same time, the thrice holy God (Isaiah 6:10). As God, Jesus was incapable of sinning. As a perfect man, Jesus was tempted in every way that we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15). Prayer was a necessity for the human nature of Jesus. As I mentioned above, all one has to do is read the accounts of Jesus' prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane in the gospels to understand just how hard the prospect of the crucifixion was on the humanity of Jesus (John 12:27-28).
Third, this pastor's teaching imposes law on the believer without any hope of grace. Your ability to minister to those that are or are not Christians is based on your ability to pray and not on the grace of God. One of this pastors favorite sayings is, "Little prayer, little power." This is were the real problem exists with this pastor. It's not about humble service in the name of Christ by the grace of Christ, but about signs and wonders in the name of Christ by the power of this man's prayer life!
Prayer life and the ability to minister have nothing to do with each other. The believers ability to minister to the the saints or the unsaved is strictly a work of the Holy Spirit by the grace of God. The one thing prayer does to a believer is mold the believer's will to the will of God. Of course, this is not this pastor's view of prayer either. This pastor views prayer as him being the master that rings a bell and God comes running like a Pavlov's dogs. At a funeral I heard this pastor say that prayed to God to raise a person from the dead, but "He [God] didn't obey me." I was shocked to hear that from anyone, but I guess if you are a super apostle, then such audacity seems to be second nature.
Lastly, I want to point out some other reasons why Jesus prayed. He prayed in order to stay in communication with His Father. He prayed so that the disciples would know that the Father sent Jesus as they watched him raise Lazarus from the dead (John 11:41-44).
In review, Jesus did not pray because He needed to replenish the supply of the Holy Spirit in His life. Jesus was both God and man. As God, He lacked nothing. As a man, He did face every sort of temptation common to humanity. And as the God-man, Jesus was incapable of sinning. Yet even as the God-man, Jesus felt the frailty of the human condition. Jesus' prayer life shows us how to pray, what to pray for, and how our own wishes take a back seat to the will of God. This is the Biblical view of why Jesus prayed. Anything other than this makes Jesus less than what he truly was.